Karen Darke, 2012 Paralympic Silver Medalist and Paratriathlon World Champion

All year I’ve been training my arms to look like Popeye (or Plastic Man as I recently discovered playing Top Trumps with my friends son Josh!) and pushing myself through pain barriers on the bike, and that time of year that we’ve been doing it all for has finally arrived. The racing season has well and truly begun. We’re just back (the British Para-cycling Team) from almost three weeks away racing at World Cup events in Italy and Switzerland. With only 15 months until the Rio Paralympic Games, it’s a big season for us to collect points for the team, as points equate to places in the Paralympic Games. The more points we can win (by doing well in races), the more places we can qualify for riders in Rio.

Karen Darke in action

It’s reality check time…has the hard training had the desired effect? Are we competitive? Are we making the podium? What new riders are there and how strong are they? How does it look for the Road to Rio, both for the team and for each of us as individuals?

Racing is harsh. Maybe it’s a bit like life. It’s full of highs and lows, elation and anxiety, moments of greatness mixed with moments of despair, feeling inspired one minute or ready to throw the towel in the next. You give it everything…and sometimes you get a return – a result – but more often you are left in awe of the competition. You know how hard you’ve trained, so how can they possibly be so much faster? Where are you going to make your gains? You know you can – because if your competitor can improve, so can you, or because you’ve done it before – but exactly how to improve is the challenge.

Karen DarkeIn the recent races I managed a 2nd and a 4th in the Time Trials, and a 3rd and a 6th in the Road Races. We had some mixed results as a team, and some exciting new results too, especially with riders who have
progressed from the Development Programme, who watched the London 2012 Paralympics and were inspired to try and get to Rio. My team mates Steve Bate and Adam Duggleby smashed out some impressive rides on the mens tandem, and trike rider Hannah Dines made podium also.

I have my heart set on a gold medal in the Time Trial in Rio. It’s eluded me my whole cycling career (I’m grateful for silver numerous times, but often the gold has been lost with a tiny margin of seconds). In fact gold eluded me even before that…I spent 3 years doing a geology PhD about gold in the Bolivian Andes, and never actually saw any real gold; only very tiny specks of it locked in the lattice of rock crystals, under a super high strength microscope at the very end of my studies! I know a gold medal isn’t going to make me a better person, and in the bigger picture of life what does it really matter who rides a bike faster than someone else? Figuring out how we can do something, design something, get better at something, or achieve something surprising seems to be an inevitable part of being human. And in that process we travel a journey, inevitably of highs and lows, but always learning and sharing with others. It’s a journey that forces us to look inwards as well as outwards, to go deep inside and question many things. Perhaps a bit like climbing a mountain, pursuing that gold medal represents all those things to me. It’s tough, but it’s a privilege. It’s a challenge I enjoy (most of the time!) and one I want to rise to.

To find out more about Karen, visit her website at www.karendarke.com.

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