21 October, 2012

Karen Darke – World Paratriathlon Champs

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Athlete Blogs and News, Karen Darke

Karen Darke – World Paratriathlon Champs

About 15 years ago, not many after being paralysed, I found myself beside an Australian beach. I was on my own but really fancied going into the sea, lured by the hot sun and turquoise water…but I’d never been in the sea since being paralysed. A guy on the beach offered to piggy-back me into the water and feeling bold, I went for it. He dropped me off in thigh depth water and left me to swim – but he’d barely reached the beach before he was running back to rescue me from the washing machine waves, my legs tossed over my head, my head disorientated and turfed under my bum, choking on mouthfuls of seawater. Since then I’ve stayed clear of sea swimming…apart from another scare when my kayak capsized at Cape Wrath, but that’s another story.

So, here I am in New Zealand, and the World Triathlon Championships, having limped through the last month or so (post-Paralympics) feeling tired and too busy to give much thought to the fact that the Triathlon requires swimming in Auckland harbour. Yikes! It’s cold and murky (but kind of turquoise) and apparently has jellyfish and occasional sharks, and since getting here the wind has been blowing a gale. So I decided, given the scale of the event, that I should really learn to swim better, and overcome my fear of swimming in the sea. So I’ve swum every day, sometimes twice a day, in the pool, the lake and the sea and thanks to some great lessons from the team coach the panicked heart rate I usually get seems to be a bit less. I’m cleaner than I’ve been for a while and have a left shoulder that’s complaining about being stretched in weird and wonderful ways. It’s reminded me how great it is to face a fear head on and tackle it, and also how good it feels to learn a new skill. Within one hour the coach changed my swimming style completely…now I just have to wire it into my brain with hours of practice.

So, the World Paratriathlon Champs is tomorrow afternoon – and if I survive the swim without swallowing too much water or resorting to back-stroke, I’ll be happy. And if my ‘Elite Transition Team’ (thanks Ashleigh and Ben) survive ripping my wetsuit off and lugging me into the bike, then the racing wheelchair, I’ll be happy too (yes, transition times are included, which is entertaining for weebles like me – for anyone watching, you’re bound to have fun watching Paratri transition). Let’s just hope my biking can pull me through.

And good luck to the thousands of competitors taking part tomorrow – respect for your sea swimming!

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