Paralympic gold medalist Karen Darke has been paralyzed from the chest down since she was 21 years old from a climbing accident.
For over 20 years, Darke has been facing new challenging adventures, such as skiing across the Greenland ice cap and climbing Europe’s tallest mountain—and now she has added another adventure to her long list of accomplishments.
The British hand cyclist achieved something that would be a challenge for most cyclists.
Darke traveled down the U.S. West Coast from Canada to Mexico in six weeks. According to BBC News, she traveled between 50 and 75 miles a day on her bike, pedaling six hours each day with only her arms.
Darke admits to having doubts about the trip. “As usual, I started the trip thinking it would be impossible. I had many doubts at the outset,” She told BBC News.
During her trip, she had several mishaps occur, but she kept going. Darke passed through intense winds in southern California and elevated temperatures of 113F. She also faced difficulty with her legs, which is unusual for her.
“I have no feelings in my legs and usually they stay quite still on my bike … for unknown reason they kept kicking out and twitching,” she expresses to BBC News. That made Darke frustrated and took some of her focus away.
The ride also left Darke with a stress injury in her left arm through her journey because of steep roads.
But to Darke, the mind is what is used to get through any demanding situation, not the body.
“Our emotions are so tightly connected to our thoughts,” she says. “Paying attention to what we’re thinking can have a massive impact on how we’re feeling. I’ve really learned to pay attention to my thoughts and try to make them positive, not negative.”
On the 37th day of her journey, Darke reached her destination, Mexico.
Darke referred to it as “the end of something incredible.”
It’s the end of this particular journey, but she still has ways to go in her quest for adventure. She’s working on a project called Quest 79. The first goal in her project was to get a gold medal in cycling at Rio 2016 in the paralympics—and she succeeded!
Throughout the next several years, Darke will travel seven continents while raising money for the Spinal Injuries Association. She said Quest 79 is something that gives her life meaning.
Darke explained to BBC News: “After an exciting year of sport in 2016, when I won gold in the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, I was feeling burnt out and emotionally flat. I needed something to give me a new meaning and purpose.”
“I wanted my project to be inspiring for other people as well as offering me a goal. More important to me than winning a gold medal is the inner gold, which is a discovery of what is possible when the power of thought, clear intention and good people come together.”
Darke is starting to plan for next year’s The Water Way—where she will hand cycle Austrailia’s Murray River.
“Now I am achieving Quest 79. That feels so very good,” she said.