Last Thursday, the RSGS was delighted to host an evening talk with Inverness-based athlete, adventurer and speaker, Karen Darke MBE, during which she received the prestigious, ‘Mungo Park Medal’.  The medal, which has been presented on a near annual basis since 1930, was awarded for ‘an inspirational contribution to geographical knowledge through exploration or adventure in potentially hazardous physical or social environments’.

The medal is named in honour of Mungo Park, the Scottish Explorer and author who spent much of his life attempting to trace the previously unexplored River Niger to its terminus. Included in the catalogue of previous recipients are some of the most significant writers, thinkers, explorers and environmentalists of the last century, including Thor Heyerdahl, who masterminded the transoceanic Kon-Tiki expedition; Nicholas Crane, who famously walked 10,000 kilometres from Cape Finisterre to Istanbul; journalists Kate Adie, Lindsey Hilsum and John Simpson, who have reported from some of the most dangerous conflict zones on the planet; climbers such as Tom McKinnon and George Band, who were the first to ascend Kanchenjunga; and, more recently, Ed Stafford, who, in 2010, became the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River.

A wonderful addition to this list, Karen has exhibited an almost unprecedented ability to overcome her disability and the challenges life has thrown at her, after becoming paralysed from the chest down at the age of 21. Working as an athlete and adventurer, she has remained optimistic, confident and motivated in the face of adversity, and an advocate of positive-thinking, self-belief and perseverance. To date, her feats in the world of outdoor adventure have been both extraordinary and unique, completing a myriad of endurance challenges in kayaking, cycling, climbing and skiing, in landscapes as diverse as the ice sheets of Greenland, the mountains of the Himalaya, and the cliffs of Yosemite National Park.

In addition to these adventures, Karen has also successfully worked as a para-cyclist for the GB Paralympic team which, most notably, resulted in a Gold Medal at the 2016 Rio Games and the award of an MBE in the 2017 New Year’s Honours List.

Commenting on the award, Karen said: “It’s a real honour to be awarded the ‘Mungo Park Medal’, and particularly special as my very inspiring PhD supervisor Professor Chalmers Clapperton was awarded it 20 years ago! My contribution to geographical knowledge is nothing in comparison, but I hope that my thirst for exploration of the world and sharing what I learn has brought something back to people in Scotland.”

Fascinated by her remarkable story, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the RSGS said, “Karen is an incredibly deserving and impressive recipient of the ‘Mungo Park Medal’. There is no doubt that Karen is an inspiration and role model to us all, and we look forward to hearing of her future achievements both in the great outdoors and on the race track”.