Sport has transformed Inverness para-athlete Karen Darke’s life and she wants to encourage others to share in her love of getting active.
The paratriathlete was born with a true spirit of adventure.
When she fell from the cliffs in a climbing accident at Cove to the south of Aberdeen aged just 21, she sustained horrific and life-changing injuries.
But her thoughts immediately turned to how to rekindle her sporting ambitions.
As soon as she was released from hospital, Darke bought a racing wheelchair – even before she invested in a normal one – and since then, has defied expectations.
First it was Paralympic silver at London 2012 and, before she knew it, the Briton was flying home from the Rio 2016 Paralympics with a gold medal around her neck.
But it’s not just medal success she’s after. The Scot’s latest adventure is called Quest 79, a campaign to undertake nine hand-bike rides on seven continents while raising money for charity.
She knows if it wasn’t for the encouragement of those around her back when she was in hospital, her dreams may have never come true.
“When I was in hospital for six months, every Wednesday was dedicated to sport and one of the physios arranged for me to go sailing on a nearby lake,” said Darke. “Thanks to her and that opportunity, I was able to get back into doing sport outdoors.
“I was also involved with a charity called BackUp, who support people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. They run ski courses every year and that was another channel for me to get outdoors and into the mountains.
“If you’ve just started out in sport, it’s a big commitment but there are so many more opportunities, charities, clubs that help ease the process for people getting involved. I loved the idea of spending time being active and doing something. You have more experiences than just sitting at home or on a sofa in a coffee shop.
“Having the opportunities there will also help people who never even considered doing anything a bit more adventurous. If you just give something a go, it comes as a surprise what you end up enjoying.”
Winning two Paralympic medals and handcycling across Kazakhstan to the Himalayas have been goals achieved, but it’s never been about the destination or end result for Darke, just the journey.
Toyota Parasport Fund awards grants to activity providers across the UK with the aim of increasing the quality and quantity of activities available to disabled people.
Darke believes initiatives like the Toyota Parasport Fund are vital in extending opportunities for young people with disabilities who want to get into in sport.
“Throughout my many years in disability sport, one of the biggest barriers to participation is the cost of equipment or support to get going,” added Darke.
“When I first started out I was trying to do sport as a recreational thing for my own enjoyment and wellbeing, but it was a minefield to find information.
“I really noticed a difference after the London 2012 Paralympics, but I think introducing the Toyota Parasport Fund is another step in the right direction.
“The fact that the fund exists to help support those trying to enter at a grassroots level is really fantastic.
“You can go from thinking you will never achieve something to doing it in such a short space of time.”
l Launched on November 4, the brand new Toyota Parasport Fund is now open for applications. This exciting new opportunity means activity providers registered on Parasport can apply for grants to improve the quality and quantity of sport and activities available to disabled people. To apply, visit parasport.org.uk/toyota-parasport-fund