Becoming a Paralympian After Breathtaking Adversity and How to Trigger Post-Traumatic Growth

Dr. Karen Darke
by Flow Research Collective
August 1, 2023
"I believe inspiration is when we see something in others that we don’t think we can do ourselves or we can’t comprehend how we would do it… We just don’t know the strength we have within us to cope with incredible things." ~ Dr. Karen Darke
Dr. Karen Darke


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Dr. Karen Darke MBE, MA, Ph.D. Karen’s purpose is to support people in transforming a challenge into an opportunity. With a deep understanding and lived experience of how trauma and life events can create stress, fear, and dis-ease, Karen has a passion for helping people move beyond perceived limitations towards expansive possibility.

“Ability is a state of mind not a state of body” infuses Karen’s approach. A climbing accident that resulted in paraplegia led her away from studying gold as a ‘rock-doctor’ into becoming a ‘mind miner’, exploring experientially how we can learn to be our own alchemist and transform the ‘mud’ of life to discover ‘inner gold’. Karen likes to shine a light on the meaning of challenge and on the limitless possibilities of the human spirit, enhancing performance, wellbeing, and meaningful contribution to the connected web of the world.

Exploring the boundaries of what is possible is something Karen has personally embraced. Her curiosity for what it takes to overcome self-doubt, face fear, and step-up performance has led her to her own experiments in high-performance sport and also in pushing the boundaries of adaptive adventure exploration. She becameParalympic hand-cycling champion (Rio 2016), World Champion in Paratriathlon, a silver medalist in her first Paralympic games (London 2012), and is the Guinness World Record holder for land speed by arm power, each time requiring deep engagement with her intrinsic motivational stack. She has also sit-skied across Greenland, sea kayaked at extreme latitudes of the planet, handcycle across the world's big mountain ranges and with coastlines and rivers of all the continents. These experiences combined with unique studies of the mind, resilience, and performance have led to helping people view life as an adventure, and to embrace all its’ experiences as opportunities to learn and grow.

Whilst hand-cycling and adventurous journeys are Karen’s primary flow activities, coaching and expanding possibilities for others is her second. She is fascinated with the power of the mind and language to positively impact emotions; improving presence, performance, and possibility. Much of her spare time is leading Quest 79, a community-focused organization with the aim of creating and supporting inspirational projects that connect people and communities to enhance inner gold and possibility.

Karen has an MBE, a Ph.D. in Earth Science, an MA in Development Training, and a second MA in High-Performance Coaching, and Diplomas in Clinical & PastoralCounselling, Hypnotherapy & Motivational Coaching. She has been awarded honorary doctorates from The University of Aberdeen, Leeds, Cumbria, Sheffield Hallam, and Abertay Universities, in recognition of her contributions to adventure and high-performance sport. She has written three biographical-based books about overcoming challenges, facing fear, and positive psychology tips for achieving surprising things: If You Fall; Boundless; Quest 79: Find Your Inner Gold.


STEVEN KOTLER is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. He is one of the world’s leading experts on human performance.

His books include The Art of Impossible, Stealing Fire, and The Rise of Superman. His work has been translated into over 40 languages and appeared in over 100 publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Wired, Atlantic Monthly, The Harvard Business Review and Forbes.

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