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Maniago 2018: Karen Darke ready for cycling return

Paralympic champion tackles Road Worlds after triathlon experience 19 Jul 2018
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female British Para cyclist Karen Darke racing with a hand-bike on a road

Karen Darke is preparing for the Road Cycling Worlds after competing at triathlon at the Commonwealth Games

ⒸGetty Images
By Poppy Penny | For the IPC

“I have always been curious about people and places. I love an adventure – a journey with an unknown outcome. Monotony or every day being the same scares me!”

Karen Darke is aiming to make a winning return to cycling at the Road World Championships after a brief stint in triathlon at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The reigning Paralympic champion is taking a different approach to training ahead of the Worlds in Maniago, Italy, compared to the intense preparation that brought her gold at Rio 2016.

“I’m not over-training as I have in the past, trying to keep my immune system stronger and better supported, and allowing space for other aspects of life after the total four-year focus that it took to win gold at Rio 2016,” she said.

“I had 18 months post-Rio where I felt initially burnt out, and then diverted into triathlon so that I could compete for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games [there was no hand-bike racing there].

“My true passion though is the bike, so I am glad to be back on that. I really hope it works as I’d like to get to Tokyo 2020.”

But cycling is far from being Darke’s only interest. Apart from her success on the road, she has traversed Greenland on a ski, hand-biked through the Himalayas, has a doctorate in geology, a Master of Arts in development training, and a diploma in traditional Chinese medicine.

“I’ve got an adventurous gene,” she said.

“I have always been curious about people and places. I love an adventure – a journey with an unknown outcome. Monotony or every day being the same scares me!”

Balancing her competitive endeavours with studying and her adventures is a challenge but she has learned to manage it successfully.

“I have to time my adventures for certain times of year when the impact is either beneficial or neutral to racing. Maintaining balance throughout my athletic career is also what keeps me sane.

“I am based in Spain in the winter as the climate is better for training than the north of Scotland, so speaking Spanish has enabled me to live and enjoy life in Spain more than I might have done without the language.”

Darke used to enjoy cycling for leisure before she fell off a cliff and was paralysed from the chest down at 21.

“I had never anticipated becoming a Paralympic hand-cyclist until I saw it was included in Beijing 2008. That sparked me into spending even more time on my bike. Now my bike feels like an extension of my body.”

The 2018 Road World Championships will take place from 2-5 August.