Written by Karen Darke FRSGS, RSGS Mungo Park Medallist 

At the Paralympics in Rio in 2016, I won the 79th medal for Britain: a gold. There is a bit of a story behind how things developed from there, but I came up with an idea for a project called Quest 79. I would visit seven continents and do nine rides – one on each continent, plus two Paralympic Games.

While raising £79K for the Spinal Injuries Association, I want to encourage as many individuals, families and groups as possible to take on their own Quest 79 challenge, by taking a step out of their comfort zone. As I have learned through my own experiences, when we commit to something that stretches our mind or body in new ways – and we consistently work at it – it often begins a life-expanding process and allows us to see all sorts of new possibilities.

Once upon a time, pushing my wheelchair 79 metres was a big challenge, let alone crossing seven continents. It seems almost unbelievable to think back to when I was lying in a hospital bed, broken and bruised, paralysed from the chest down, with nothing but a view of dull ceiling tiles and the prospect of life in a wheelchair, that I have been able to ski across icecaps, kayak oceans, cycle across continents, and experience the life of adventure and exploration that I have. This has inspired me to encourage others to do something that seems a bit of a challenge to achieve. We all have our own mountain to climb, but no matter how big or small our ambition, we are destined to discover something inside ourselves that is precious. I call this our ‘Inner Gold’.

To date, I have cycled six of the seven continents: Antarctica and creating the ‘Pole of Possibility’ remains. Each of the journeys has given me far more than the wonderful experience of travelling to new landscapes and cultures. Each adventure has gifted me with powerful positive emotions: I have felt compelled to write my ‘Inner Gold’ blog series to share some insights on these, as I believe they are helpful emotions that we can all nurture in everyday life.

Through my journeys, I have discovered more deeply than ever how we can rewire our brain and recondition our body, and change our world from the inside out. I am fascinated with exploring our ability to heal, to ignite the potential within us for abilities and possibilities we may barely be able to imagine. I believe we can change our energy, transmute disease and create wellness for ourselves if we pursue practical ways of reducing stress, and pay careful attention to the thoughts we have, and the emotions that we attach to them.

This is particularly relevant now, when our medical systems are under such pressure; systems that even under normal conditions are incredible at managing medical trauma, but lack solutions for long-term chronic conditions. If we take more responsibility to help ourselves, by venturing to try things we may normally not try, then the inner gold we find can be a potent source of positive feelings. The effects of positive emotions on our general health are increasingly well studied: a sense of belief in ourselves, feeling more freedom, experiencing more gratitude, love and joy are all well established as foundations of sustainable happiness. Neuroscience has shown that these positive emotions are great natural anti-depressants, as they stimulate the release of ‘happiness’ hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, crucial neurotransmitters responsible for enhancing our mood.

The ‘Inner Gold’ blog series takes readers on a kind of virtual travel experience, exploring both ‘outside’ through short stories of some of the Quest 79 rides, and ‘inside’ by looking at the positive emotions that each journey roused.

Coincidentally, I realised shortly after beginning the project that 79 is the atomic number of gold in the periodic table. That was slightly embarrassing, because I completed a degree in chemistry and geology, and spent three years doing a PhD in the geology of gold! It makes the concept of ‘Inner Gold’ even more relevant.

I hope the series will help you discover that when we are brave enough to try something new, the change in ourselves impacts not only our own wellbeing, but that of the people around us, the communities we are part of, and in turn that can change the world: heart by heart, step by step. I hope you enjoy it.

Please register for more ideas at www.karendarke.com and consider joining the ADVENTURE MINDSET CAFÉ to explore how to adopt an adventurous mindset so that you can tackle life’s challenges with fresh perspectives. Look forward to surprising yourself with what you can do when you free your mind. Seats now available at Eventbrite.