Competing in the London 2012 Paralympics began with what seemed like a mad idea, inspired by watching handbiking, included for the first time ever, in the Beijing Paralympics. Ideas are like seeds - sometimes they plant themselves in you, and slowly wither away, but other times they take root.
Despite almost hoping the Paralympic seed would die, it took hold; the idea of the challenge, of being part of such a great event in my own country, was too much to let go of. On the positive side I had a good level of fitness, I rode my bike every day, and knew I’d be motivated to train. On the negative side though, I’d only ever done two bike races and come last by a long way, and I just couldn’t see myself as an ‘athlete’. I saw myself as too old and too slow; a day-tripping, picnicking sort of cyclist, not someone with racing prowess.
It’s been a journey of highs and lows, of losing races and confidence, but also of seeing my times and results improve. There have been nights when I’ve been so tired I couldn’t sleep, my body buzzing with the effort and the adaptation, not a joule of energy left. However, hard work, commitment and perseverance pay off! In November 2010 I was selected for the British Paracycling ‘Academy’, and have been training my little (getting bigger!) arms off since. To compete in London, we had to medal at World Championship level - the ‘big race’ was in Denmark, September 2011. No pressure! If I didn’t medal, my London 2012 dream would be over.
Two bronze medals later, I’m proud to be training now harder than ever. My coach John Hampshire (www.fit-for-purpose.co.uk) keeps me right - I’m happy to train hard, but appreciate his skills in writing my coaching programmes and analysing my performance data, and suggesting the best way forward to improve performance.
Now living between the north of Scotland and Sheffield, there is no shortage of hills to ride, but fast, flat speed endurance is a weaker area. John suggested he ride a recumbent trike, to pace my on my rides - just push me that bit harder - on the flats and the hills. We borrowed a TRICE for John to ride on a training run, and I realised this was a key to success. Having John on a trike to pace me would bring me on another level and help me bridge the gap to jump from bronze to gold.
‘Going for Gold’ is my ambition, in fact double gold, in the Time Trial and the Road Race. Its a hugely challenging target, as in London some of the women’s categories will be combined, so I’ll also be racing against people with a ‘lesser’ disability than my own. Its going to be a tough year, but I can’t wait for the start of September 2012, to the big race days at Brands Hatch. I’ve got such a fantastic coach and support team, and know that I’ll be giving it my everything for those Gold medals.
Thank you to ICE for loaning my coach John a Voretex trike, to help pace me with...although I don’t feel quite as thankful after a killer ride at his pace!
Karen Darke www.karendarke.com