‘I thought I’d never race again’

TV Times - - Paralympics - Par­a­lympics wed, thurs / c4, more4 / times vary Richard Mcclure

SPORT t was one of the most un­for­get­table im­ages of the Lon­don 2012 Par­a­lympic Games Ð hand­bike road racer

Karen Darke and team­mate Rachel Mor­ris cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line to­gether, hold­ing hands in a bid to share the bronze medal af­ter a gru­elling 29-mile race.

Un­for­tu­nately, the Games of­fi­cials had other ideas. Al­though they clocked ex­actly the same time, the photo fin­ish showed Rachel just in front. She was awarded bronze and Karen was left empty-handed.

ÔIT was a de­ci­sion I took at that mo­ment. IÕD al­ready won a sil­ver in the time trial and I thought we would be able to share the medal, but Iõve never re­gret­ted it,õ smiles Karen when she meets

TV Times be­fore jet­ting out to Rio. Ômost of the men in my life could­nõt be­lieve I did­nõt race for that medal, but all my fe­male friends thought it was a beau­ti­ful mo­ment.

Ôbut weõll never be in that

Ipo­si­tion again be­cause Rachel has moved over to the row­ing squad for Rio, and IÕM the only Bri­tish hand cy­clist in the road team for 2016.Õ

This time round, Karen is just grate­ful to be there. Since Lon­don, her prepa­ra­tions for the Rio Games have been be­set by prob­lems, in­clud­ing a road accident in 2013, when she was hit by a car while train­ing, and an op­er­a­tion last year to re­move a pelvic ab­scess.

Ôthere have been lots of times when I thought I would never make it to Brazil,õ she re­veals.

Ôafter the road accident a lot of nerves in my right arm were dam­aged and I was­nõt sure if I would ever be in­de­pen­dent again, let alone com­pet­ing.õ

To re­cover, Karen, 45, took on a gru­elling train­ing regime that in­volved in­ten­sive gym and bike work. ‘When you get set­backs you weren’t ex­pect­ing it makes you fight harder,õ she says. Ônow I feel re­ally strong and IÕM rar­ing to go.õ

Born in York­shire, Karen lives in Scot­land, where she gained a doc­tor­ate in ge­ol­ogy from Aberdeen Uni­ver­sity af­ter be­com­ing paral­ysed from the chest down in a rock­climb­ing accident at the age of 21.

Ôthe first cou­ple of months were the hard­est part, learn­ing how to do ev­ery­thing again Ð that was tough. You canõt imag­ine a life be­yond it, and itõs only thanks to a lot of help and sup­port from friends and fam­ily that I got through it.õ

Since the accident, Karen has be­come one of Bri­tainõs most in­trepid ad­ven­tur­ers, cross­ing Green­landõs ice cap sit­ting on skis, kayak­ing from Canada to Alaska and cy­cling through the Hi­malayas.

‘The hard­est was Green­land, be­cause of the ex­treme cli­mate. Cy­cling is­nõt the hard part, itõs the bits in be­tween Ð camp­ing in dirt, try­ing to keep ev­ery­thing clean, stay­ing healthy.õ

In Rio, sheõll be com­pet­ing in Wed­nes­dayõs time trial and the fol­low­ing dayõs road race.

She ad­mits sheõs dis­heart­ened by the trou­bles the Games are fac­ing. ÔITÕS dis­ap­point­ing that fund­ing which should have gone into the Par­a­lympics went into the Olympics, but itõs easy to judge Ð Brazil has its own prob­lems,õ she says. ÔAS an ath­lete, IÕM just try­ing to stay fo­cused. Rio is an iconic lo­ca­tion, and IÕM sure the Games will turn out to be truly spe­cial.õ

How Bri­tish Par­a­lympian Karen darke bat­tled back from se­ri­ous in­jury to go for gold in Rio

Queen of the open road: In ac­tion at the UCI Para-cy­cling Cham­pi­onship in Lucerne, Switzer­land, last year Karen (white hel­met) crosses the line handin-hand with Rachel

With her 2012 time

trial sil­ver medal

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