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Social Enterprise Academy hails its Rio golden girl

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Popular tutor Karen Darke struck gold in the Paralympic time-trial cycling

Adventurer, athlete and tutor at the Social Enterprise Academy Karen Darke has returned to Scotland a hero after winning gold at the Rio Paralympic Games.

Karen, who is paralysed from the chest down, finished the H 1-3 time-trial cycling course in the fastest time to land her medal.

A tutor based in the Highlands and Islands, where she specialises in senior level strategic leadership and coaching, she told TFN she was amazed at her success as she thought she had blown her chances.

“I thought my ride was going really badly, I just didn’t have my usual power, and then my chain fell off,” she said.

Karen Darke

I thought my ride was going really badly ... it just goes to show you should never give up

Karen Darke

“It just goes to show you should never give up, I just stopped and put the chain back on and had to dig in.

“Honestly, the whole race I thought it wasn’t going well and then just on the last lap I could see that was I slightly up on the others’ times, so I just pushed as hard as I could - I just can’t believe it!

“Behind every gold is a team of amazing people and organisations, you’re out here doing the best that you can but I’m so lucky that there are so many people out here rooting for me and helping me, I think that’s what’s made the difference.”

Karen’s race saw riders set off on their own at staggered intervals on a route along the roads of Rio. The cyclists race against the clock and the winner is whoever does it in the quickest time.

Karen completed the course in a time of 33 minutes and 44 seconds – 12 seconds ahead of her nearest competitor.

Neil McLean, chief executive of the Social Enterprise Academy, the Edinburgh based organisation which helps people to develop their personal strengths to build sustainable enterprises and achieve greater social impact, said Karen epitomises the resilience, positivity and mindset that embodies the characteristics of leadership.

“Again and again Karen shows us what can be done if you put your heart and soul into what you love and gather good people around you,” he said.

“That everything she achieves is done with humility and humour simply adds to our appreciation of her contribution to athletics and Scotland’s third sector.

“We’re incredibly proud of what she’s achieved and hope that her story continues to inspire others.”

Karen was left paralysed following an accident while sea-cliff climbing at the age of 21. Now, 45, she has led an incredible life adventuring across Greenland and Patagonia, writing books and speaking at events around the world.

At the 2012 London Paralympics, she won a silver medal in the women's road time trial H1–2 and finished fourth in the H1-3 road race competition.

While she is currently a full time athlete, her day job is providing support to others through leadership development programmes.

She added: "Someone once said to me, 'Disability is a state of mind not a state of body.' That’s a notion that relates to us all, regardless of whether we have a physical disability or not.

“Our own mind is our biggest obstacle to living and achieving our wildest aspirations. What is life if it isn’t an adventure? I’m constantly amazed by what can be achieved if we set our heart and mind to it.

“It’s all about finding belief, confidence, motivation and commitment. And of course, friends. Then there are no limits."

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