THERE are six spectacular women in the running for the Glasgow Times Scotswoman of the Year 2021 award.

Every day this week, we are sharing their stories.

Today it is the turn of adventurer, author and motivational speaker Karen Darke.


Glasgow Times: Karen Darke

GOLD is a recurring theme in Karen Darke’s story.

Her working life as a geologist began researching gold in the Bolivian Andes.

Then, in 1993, the then 21-year-old fell from a sea-cliff, sustaining life-changing injuries. She awoke from a coma to be told she would never walk again.

Paralysed from the chest down, she was determined not to give up on her twin passions of climbing and cycling. She bought a race chair and won gold in the women’s road time trial at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Glasgow Times: Karen Darke

Since then, she has become the first woman to hand-bike across the Himalayas, crossed 372 miles of Greenland’s ice sheet while sitting on skis using her arms and poles, and climbed the infamous El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.

She has also handcycled along the Silk Route, the length of Japan, and across Tibet.

“I feel like my life has been all about gold, and now it is about inner gold – about helping people turn unexpected events into opportunities,” explains the Inverness-based adventurer and athlete.

Glasgow Times: Karen Darke

“It’s better to ask – how can I make the most of this situation? How can I focus on what it has brought me, rather than what it has taken away?”

Karen grew up in Yorkshire but moved to Aberdeen to study a postgraduate degree in geology.

Glasgow Times:

“I came to Scotland to study, but not just that, also because of the mountains,” she explains, with a laugh.

“I wanted to live in the north, surrounded by amazing Scottish mountains, and once I’d come, it was hard to go back.

Glasgow Times: Karen Darke

“I’m not Scottish but I have lived here for more than 30 years, and I feel Scottish. It’s an honour to be considered for Scotswoman of the Year.”

Karen admits in the early days after her accident, she thought she would “rather be dead than paralysed.”

She adds: “I soon learned that with friends, creativity and perseverance most things are still possible. It is thanks to those ingredients that I have a pretty extraordinary life.”

Pretty extraordinary barely covers it.

Glasgow Times: Karen Darke

Karen has spent more than 10 years as a full-time athlete – a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympics came before that gold in Rio, and she is a European Paratriathlon Champion.

She has an MBE, a PhD in Geology, and honorary degrees from five UK universities in recognition of her accomplishments and contributions in adventure and sport.

Recently, she received the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, testament to her heroic achievements, strength of character and spirit of adventure.

Karen is demand all over the world as an inspirational speaker and life coach and has written three books.

After winning her gold medal – it was the 79th medal for Britain, and 79 is the atomic number of gold – Karen set up Quest 79, in which she is cycling seven continents in nine spectacular rides, raising £79,000 for spinal injuries research and support and encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones and discover that ‘inner gold’.

As part of Quest 79, Karen is currently in training to sit-ski to the South Pole with Manchester Arena bombing survivor Iona Somerville as part of the Pole of Possibility expedition, a partnership with the Polar Academy.

“We want to inspire people, particularly young people, to believe in themselves and to understand so much is still possible even when it seems everything is against you,” explains Karen.

“We are trying to raise £79,000 for the Spinal Injuries Association, and would be really grateful if any businesses or individuals out there can donate to help us.”

Karen adds: “What I do now is about mindset, about helping other people come to terms with the challenging and unforeseen and difficult events life throws at them.”

She pauses. “Of course I would never have chosen to be paralysed,” she adds.

“But I’m grateful for the incredible perspective it has given me and the amazing life I lead now.”

If you can help support the Pole of Possibility expedition contact Karen through her website,