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If you Fall by Karen Darke

Dec 18, 2006


“I always thought I’d rather be dead than paralysed…
one slip, one moment and everything changes…”

If You Fall…

KAREN DARKE

Publication Date: November 2006

FOREWORD BY RANULPH FIENNES OBE - explorer and expedition leader

When mountaineering enthusiast Karen Darke was paralysed from the chest down in a climbing accident at the age of twenty one, it was thought her days of adventure were past. In her life story, Karen proves that disability is no barrier to achieving the impossible, and shows how others can turn life’s “falls” to incredible personal gain.

Karen’s journey begins with a heart-stopping account of the fall that paralyses her and her struggle to regain her independence and fitness. Overcoming the difficulties of combining wheels with wilderness, she describes her escapes from the world of concrete––expeditions by hand-cycle, ski and kayak in the Scottish islands, the Himalayas, Hawaii and Alaska.

But her story is more than a tale of one person defeating adversity. Karen’s experiences lead her to question her scientific belief system (she is a qualified geologist) and reassess her place and purpose in the world. Karen embarks on a spiritual journey in which she encounters crystal healing, spiritualism and ends up willingly putting herself under the knife of a controversial spirit surgeon. But her treatments do not reward her with the ability to walk again, and through her experiences, Karen finds the strength to accept herself as she is, without giving up the fight to regain movement in her legs.

Karen’s story speaks to us directly about how life’s unexpected “falls” can bring out the best in us. For her “the fall” was her paralysis but for someone else it could be “a mid-life crisis, a career upset, or a dysfunctional family or relationship.” Karen dares to suggest “there is a gift in the fall, a gift that will be something different for everyone…Asking ‘What if?’ is not important. What happened, did, and so be it. What matters is not shying away from our fears, and having the courage to listen to the quiet voices inside us, wherever they take us.”

This vivid and uplifting book offers all the opportunity to see life’s challenges in a positive light and to rise to those challenges with strength and resilience. If You Fall… combines high adventure with spiritual depth in a story that will fill readers with inspiration, energy and a totally fresh outlook on life.





AUTHOR INFORMATION

KAREN DARKE

• Karen Darke comes from an active, outdoor family. Her adventures started as young as six, when she climbed her first mountain. By the age of 16, she was an experienced climber, and spent every summer outdoors––by her late teens she had already climbed Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. It was while she was studying for a PhD in Geology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, that a day’s climbing trip ended in Karen’s tragic accident, one week before she was due to go to Bolivia on a field trip.

• Karen has just embarked on her latest adventure. She has joined a team of six intrepid explorers pushing back the modern-day frontiers of knowledge, technology and exploration by completing a 600 km traverse of Greenland's Ice Cap. At the end of the expedition Karen will be the first paralyzed woman to have crossed Greenland by ski. www.byhandsandfeet.co.uk

• Karen spends much of her time running Inspire and Impact, a development training organisation offering positive impact speaking, coaching and training. As lead speaker, coach and facilitator Karen speaks from the heart, drawing on her own powerful personal experiences to create a positive impact in the lives, health and work of others. www.inspireandimpact.com

• She is also the founder of Interventure, a charity which provides and develops opportunities for disabled people to participate in adventure sports and outdoor activities. The organisation provides specialist equipment so that all people can access outdoor activities such as kayaking and cycling. www.interventure.org.uk

• Karen Darke is also a fully-qualified complementary therapist offering acupuncture, hypnotherapy and massage. She lives in Morayshire, Scotland with her husband of four years, Suresh Paul, an award-winning designer of sports equipment for disabled people.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR

If You Fall…

“Karen’s captivating story shines a bright light on the meaning of challenge, and on the limitless capabilities of the human spirit.”
––Ranulph Fiennes, expedition leader

“Karen Darke’s story is about the indomitability of spirit, from one of life’s cruel vagaries of fortune to what is insight and inspiration. She has overcome the limitations of paralysis and discovered a life of challenge and adventure that many of us only dream about. It is all about the mind, the spirit and the desire that some of us find, but which all of us possess.”
––Joe Simpson, mountaineer and author of “Touching the Void”


sample material from

If You Fall…

Foreword by Ranulph Fiennes

“Having lived on the edge all my life, and sometimes over it, I know what it feels like to fall. Not just physically, but mentally. But it’s on the edge that we test ourselves, draw on our inner reserves of strength, out of which we can act more effectively back in the ordinary world.

Karen knows this better than anyone. She did fall, heartbreakingly so. But out of this she has found a strength and resilience that she probably didn’t realise she had before, and which most of don’t get anywhere near. And her story is not just one of the triumph of the human spirit, but of the spiritual. It’s spirit that makes us what we are, spirit that calls out to us in the wilderness places. This isn’t just a book
about physical survival, about coming to terms with a broken body, but of finding the spirit within all of us, whether we’re out on the mountains or at home in the living room. It’s about crossing that fine borderline between what seems real and what seems impossible. Taking out the super of supernatural and putting it into our own lives, which is where it really belongs. Read this to understand what drives people like me, but more importantly to make the connections yourself between where you are now and where you could be.”
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, OBE

From the Prologue: Falling
“Life can only be understood backwards; it has to be lived forwards.”
Søren Kierkegaard
At some point in life, we are likely to fall. By ‘fall’ I mean that something happens to us that we find challenging to deal with. It might be a sudden, unexpected event that catapults us into the chaos of personal crisis. Or perhaps
we are drifting along on the currents of life, feeling like something needs to change but not quite knowing how or what to do about it.

My ‘big’ fall happened when I was twenty-one. I was paralysed in a rock-climbing accident. That’s nothing unique – this kind of crisis happens to lots of people in all kinds of ways. This was the event which stopped my life as I’d known it, and set me on an extraordinary journey from the brink of death to hand-cycling in the Himalayas and to the rusty knife of a Brazilian spirit surgeon. These adventures have catalysed an inner journey that make me question what is real, to wonder about the patterns of beliefs that surround us, and to get to know myself in relation to the world in a way that I would never have thought possible.


I have been fortunate to travel, to be able to explore within whilst exploring outwith, but I don’t believe we necessarily need to go ‘out there’ to do this. The biggest explorations of ourselves often happen on our own doorsteps. One of my biggest explorations occurred whilst lying in a bed staring at a ceiling for two months. But I am a person who is stimulated by the world around me, rather than from within. I get my ideas, my motivation and my inspiration from ‘out there’, and that is why I have been compelled to journey and travel in order to discover. You may wonder as you read “How on earth did she manage to go to all these places?” It may all sound rather exotic and ‘surreal’, and often it felt that way to me too. I’m not rich, but I am resourceful. I’m lucky enough not to be scared of roughing it and I’ve also met with incredible kindness. It is thanks to all of this that so many of my adventures have been possible.

When I was thrown from my rather comfortable place in life, I found it cathartic to write and to express the
spaghetti of feelings tangled within me about being paralysed. The anonymity of a piece of paper allowed me to express what it was like not being able to walk, climb mountains, run, dance, play – or at least not in the way I’d been used to. However, writing this book is the scariest thing I have ever done – more so than any physical adventure I could ever dream up. It has asked me to share a part of me that normally stays hidden.

Good memories are wonderful things to have, but they can hold us back too. For years I wrangled with my own waves and whirlpools of emotions, haunted by memories of the past and what I used to be able to do. But as my internal storm slowly subsided, I became happy and more engaged with the world around me again. I began to realise that when I met new people, something about my very visible disability, the fact that I was young and active, and had been shunted into something that people found hard to comprehend, seemed to catalyse a torrent of thoughts and emotions for them. I was regularly bombarded with questions, or confronted with inquisitive faces, asking “What happened to you? How do you ‘cope’? How would I cope if it happened to me? Why aren’t I doing more with my life whilst I still can?” Sometimes these are asked directly but often people are too embarrassed and I read the questions on their faces.

“Why do I seem to cause this response?” I wondered. It seems that my situation, and something about having a
disability but remaining active (and not slotting into a mould of housebound victim) ignites in people memories of their own near-misses, sparks of regret for the things they should do before they might not be able, reflection on their life and its missed opportunities and questioning of their own resilience. Why does it so often take a fall, our own or another’s, in whatever shape or form, to cause us as humans to ‘wake up’ to who we are and how we are living?

For most, personal ‘disaster’ creeps up on us, and at some point we wonder what it is all about. It might be a mid-life crisis; a career upset; a dysfunctional family or relationship, or like me, becoming paralysed. Often we don’t reflect on our lives, we are barely conscious, until something causes us to fall down. Then we are swept out to a stormy sea on a rip-tide, forced to come to terms with what’s happened, as if a giant salty wave has unexpectedly crashed over our head. We are forced to consciously consider ourselves and our lives.

Here I share my story, of being active, or hyperactive, with a disability, and maybe it will just be a story for you, or maybe it will ignite latent sparks and cause you to live your life listening to the quiet voices inside you, rather than waiting for an unexpected explosion to catalyse change.


INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
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KAREN DARKE

––If You Fall… is packed full of adventurous journeys to far-flung corners of the globe – what other expeditions do you have in the pipeline?
“I shall be skiing across the Greenland icecap in a special sit-ski that I propel by using poles and pushing myself across the snow with my arms. It’s an environment I’ve never experienced before, and one that I’m rather nervous about (mainly because of my inability to stay warm). But the attraction of seeing a vast ice wilderness, the big skies and sunsets I hope we will experience are all big attractions. In my book, I talk about the “How? Now. Wow!” cycle–I’m looking forward to the Wow!, but am still quite intimidated by what lies ahead”.

––In the initial chapters of the book you relive the moment you fell and the subsequent months in hospital learning to live again. What was it like to write about this period of your life?
“I wrote this part a while ago now, and it was difficult the first time I put pen to paper. When I first started writing, I didn’t intend to write a book–it began as a process that helped me come to terms with what had happened. Only after a few years did my writing evolve into a book. By that time I’d realized that difficult stuff happens to us all, in different shapes, forms and intensities, and it is often what brings us closer to knowing others, and ourselves”.

––You later touch on your sense that aspects of your life might have been predetermined––do you believe in destiny?
I found a poem recently that I wrote when I was 14. It’s called “Battle for Life” and is about a fight between life and death––it was written in the “I” form and life won. It struck me what an accurate description it was of what happened to me at 21. So my answer is yes. I sometimes wonder if there is an intelligence that exists within us which knows that certain things lie in store. Maybe science and religion will come together and figure out the answers, but for now, I do hold some believe in destiny.

––The operations you underwent under the knife of “Dr Fritz” will raise some eyebrows. What’s your take on the experience now? Would you put yourself under the knife again?
I don’t think it’s as strange or weird as I thought at the time. I don’t believe it’s necessary to use such “shocking” techniques, but I do believe Dr Fritz broke down a lot of people’s assumptions about what is possible, and what isn’t, which I see as a good thing. I believe our bodies want to heal themselves when disease or injury occurs and that it can be our minds that hold us back. I wouldn’t put myself under the knife again – that was then, and this is now. I don’t regret anything about it, and my experiences with Dr Fritz did me only good. But I believe that the power to heal ourselves lies within, if only we knew how to use the mind-body connection. That’s something I’m still working on!