In 1993, at the age of 21, Karen fell off a cliff she was climbing and became paralysed from the chest down. Just before her accident, Karen said she would rather die than be paralysed but little did she know what lay ahead.
Karen’s adventurous spirit is best explained in her own words;
“I found fortune in my misfortune, inspiration from people in similar and more challenging situations all around me, and began pursuing alternative ways to access the outdoors. Not being able to move or feel anything below my chest level has of course been a challenge, but I’ve come to learn that nothing is impossible if we set our mind and our efforts to it, and are fortunate to have good friends and family supporting us.
I’ve had to challenge my own physical and mental barriers, completing many trips that others, including myself, believed impossible; from marathons and triathlons, to kayaking, sit-skiing and hand-cycling in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet.
These trips have included a crossing of the Tien Shan and Karakoram mountains of Central Asia on a hand bike (1997 and raising £12,000 for charity), hand-cycling the length of the Japanese archipelago (2000), sea kayaking a 1200 mile length of the Canada – Alaska coastline (2003), crossing the Indian Himalaya by hand-cycle (2006) and skiing the Valle Blanche on a sit ski. None of these would have been possible without incredible and slightly crazy friends!
The most physically challenging adventure was a 600 kilometre traverse of the Greenland ice cap, a month long journey across one the world’s last great expanses of wilderness. The winds can reach 200 miles per hour and temperatures drop below 40 degrees. I seriously doubted our chances of success, particularly as paralysis means you can’t regulate your body temperature, yet with hard work, determination and a lot of support, it was a journey that became possible.
Climbing the kilometre high overhanging precipice of El Capitan, a giant granite rock face in Yosemite National Park, USA, was a huge mental challenge, overcoming my doubts about climbing and dread of heights, getting back on the ropes and working through the fear. Thanks to the expertise and support of climber Andy Kirkpatrick 4000 pull ups felt easy in comparison to the mental obstacles. However, it was perfect preparation for what was to come next… making it to the London 2012 Paralympics in the sport of hand-cycling, as part of the British Cycling Team.
In my first race, the time trial (the race of truth) I gave it everything I had, completing the 16-kilometre course in 33:16.09, earning me a Silver medal behind Muffy Davis of the USA.
In my next event, the road race, I worked with fellow British team-mate Rachel Morris to stay with the main group for six laps of Brands Hatch, the competition dropping off with each lap. On the final lap, 40 seconds behind the American team who took Gold and Silver, we made one of the most controversial wins of the games, and instead of sprinting for the line, we crossed holding hands in bronze position, though I missed out on a medal as a photo finish gave Rachel third place. We’d worked so hard together over the last few years we couldn’t bear the thought of pipping each other to the line. It wasn’t that one of us was stronger than the other, so we just thought ‘let’s do it, let’s grab our hands at 50m and go!
I think the work which The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety is doing in the development of “Personal Safety for People with Disabilities” courses is fantastic and I am delighted to be asked to be their Patron.”
As well as being a two-time World Champion in para-triathlon, Karen has also hand-biked across Cuba and most recently won a Gold medal in the Rio 2016 Paralympics in the H1-3 time-trial.
Stephanie’s medal achievements include:
- Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 – Silver
- Australia World Cup 2014 – Bronze
- Mauritius World Cup 2014 – Bronze
- Samoa World Cup 2013 – Silver
- Mauritius World Cup 2013 – Bronze
- Finland European Cup 2013 – Silver
- Russia European Cup 2013 – Silver
- English Open 2013 – Gold
Stephanie’s drive and enthusiasm is best explained in her own words;
“I loved being able to train full time as it gave me a chance to improve my skills and build myself as a player.
I have travelled all over the world attending training camps and competitions including a 5 week camp in Japan and competitions as far as Argentina, Canada and Samoa.
One of my toughest fights and competitions to date, was competing in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix where I faced the Beijing Olympic Champion. I feel I put up a really good fight and was unfortunate to miss out on a win by one small penalty. This fight however has served as a turning point within myself, as I fully believe that the next time I fight this girl I will come out victorious which shows that I can compete and threaten some of the best in the world.
Judo has shaped my life and without it I don’t think I would be the person I am today.
In 2012, I graduated with a Ma Management degree from Heriot Watt University and later in 2015 I shall graduate with an Msc International Business degree.
I have always believed it important to combine both my sporting and academic ambitions which has proved to be very challenging at times, but with a strong support network from both Judo Scotland and Heriot Watt University I have managed to pursue both.
I am also an athlete mentor with Champions in Schools, Game on Scotland and Dame Kelly Holmes Trust which are all like minded charities set up to inspire children to become more active and try different sports. I enjoy working with the charities and delivering taster judo sessions with school pupils whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I have also been involved in coaching judo since the age of 15.
My sporting highlight to date is winning a Silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014. To me, the Games were so special as they were the only time where I have represented and fought for Scotland in a competition. Usually, I fight for Great Britain.
It was a very proud day for me as I had worked so hard to pursue my dream of competing and winning a medal in the Commonwealth Games and for my hard work to pay off meant so much to me. I was also so happy to have competed in front of such an amazing and supportive crowd where I had my closest friends, family members and boyfriend cheering me on. I am fortunate enough to have made such fantastic memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I support the work which The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety does in the provision of personal safety, conflict resolution and practical self defence training, particularly their “Personal Safety for Women” courses, and I am pleased to be asked to be their Patron.”
During 2016, Stephanie’s focus was on qualifying for the Rio Olympic Games but she still took time out to teach children English at a school in Vietnam. It was on her way to the school one day that a tragic motorcycle accident left Stephanie suffering from a severe brain injury and fighting for her life.
The subsequent media and fund raising campaign to provide Stephanie with the medical treatment she so badly needed and to bring her back home from Vietnam is testament to how well respected and thought of she is in Scotland, the martial arts community and beyond.
Despite making a full recovery, Stephanie announced her retirement from competition judo in July 2017 but intends to continue coaching career. One thing is for sure, Stephanie continues to be an inspiration to us all….and you can’t ask more of a Patron than that.
Halah Al-Hamrani is Saudi Arabia’s first female kickboxing and boxing trainer, fighting not only the stigma that women are the weaker sex and not suited for such a male dominant sport but also fighting gender inequality as a whole.
Halah has been doing martial arts since the age of 12, beginning with karate, then trying out other martial arts. She has a black belt in Japanese jiu jitsu.
After graduating from high school in Jeddah, Halah moved to San Diego to further her education (majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in International Relations) and while there, she decided she wanted to learn how to “throw a proper punch” as this was something she had thus far not been taught.
Starting with Muay Thai, she also trained in boxing and kickboxing before heading back to Saudi Arabia. After a period of unemployment, Halah decided to set up her own business, qualifying for a Personal Trainer certificate through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and using her martial arts skills to train her clients.
In 2013, Halah set up FLAG (Fight Like a Girl) Boxing on Instagram and then opened the first female boxing gym in Saudi Arabia in April 2016.
Halah continues to show the World that women from any background, any culture, any country, can succeed.
Halah commented; “I am delighted to support The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety and be a Patron for their “Personal Safety for Ethnic Minority Women” courses. I am glad that I am looked at as an inspirational Muslim woman, breaking the mould and proving that gender inequality can be challenged.”
Described by many as a “Jill of all trades”, Naziyah comes with a long list of achievements.
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Naziyah is an astrophysicist and aerospace engineer, a martial artist, a STEM Ambassador for gender equality, a model, a short story writer and poet, an artist, a proud ‘geek’ and more. To top it all off, she’s also partially blind.
Naziyah achieved her degree in Physics with Astrophysics, and her Postgraduate in Space Mission Analysis and Design (Aerospace) from the University of Glasgow, and this then led onto her involvement in space missions including as a mission analyst for the European Space Agency (ESA) ESMO mission. Her work as an Earth Observation Engineer also included her involvement on the ESA CryoSat-2 ice mission, which measures the changing depths of global land and sea ice to quantify the effects of global warming.
Having also worked as a STEM Development Manager, Naziyah uses her platform to raise awareness of gender inequalities within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sector, and to increase the uptake of STEM subjects by girls from an earlier age.
Although her academic and industrial expertise lies within the sciences, Naziyah is also a skilled martial artist who is trained in several of the arts. She specialises in weapons arts, and most prominently the Korean sword art of Haidong Gumdo, for which she was one of the first presences of in Scotland. This art uses older Korean battlefield techniques to teach the practitioner to defend themselves against several opponents at once, as opposed to one-on-one.
She has also trained in arts such as Ninjutsu, Bagua, Xing Yi, European fencing, Karate, Aikido, and techniques such as Qi gong, Fa jin, Dimmak, Kyusho jitsu, Gi cheon and more.
Naziyah has been visually impaired since childhood and has often spoken about how she is able to get around unassisted thanks to her martial training;
“When one of our senses diminishes, our other ones heighten, and often we find ourselves gaining a keen sense of awareness. It is through my martial training that I was able to find my footing.
A martial art is exactly that – it’s an art. It is a form of self-expression and goes beyond just physical skill and teaching. When we adopt a martial art as a ‘way’ of life, we find that we also grow on the mental, spiritual, psychological, and emotional levels too. We find ourselves becoming more in control of our own being, and not just our bodies, which is a wonderful way of developing maturity in all forms.”
Naziyah also works alongside the YWCA Scotland to create safe physical and digital spaces for all self-identifying women in Scotland. By taking part in committee meetings at Scottish Parliament, she works to change legislation that targets key, problematic issues such as violence against women and girls.
“Considering that this is an issue that has been prevalent throughout history, it is heart-breaking to see that it is still running rampant in our society. It is the responsibility of every person to call out on injustice, and as such we hope to bring about some tangible change so that we may all benefit from a more accepting environment, regardless of one’s gender, faith, age, background and way of life.”
As a devout Muslim woman, Naziyah has herself faced much discrimination in her life, however, she continues to spread the message of peace and compassion through her online platforms. This can also be seen through her written works, some winning spaces and being featured in the Great British Write Off.
When approached by The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety, Naziyah commented;
“I am honoured, and humbled, to be a patron for such a worthy initiative. Although there is absolutely no excuse for violent and inappropriate behaviours, I believe that every person, especially woman, should have at least a basic knowledge of self-defence. Unfortunately, harassment in its many forms is a common occurrence, so to have the necessary physical and mental training can make all the difference to a situation.
I am a woman. I am Scottish. I am Pakistani. I am Arab. I am Muslim. I am visually impaired. I am young. I am outspoken against injustice. All these characteristics individually (and together) are often the target of discrimination and hate for many people – their gender, background, colour, age, faith and more.
To be given the means to tackle these issues at home, in the workplace, when we’re out and about and such, is so vital, and I commend The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety for their incredible work.”
Four inspirational women, four inspirational Patrons. We are truly privileged.