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Karen Darke’s heart has always been in the summits of the mountains. A love that had been instilled by her parents, who had always been keen on hiking, she loved any excuse to get her out there; running, hiking, but most of all climbing.

Her love of climbing gave her a tendency to push herself outside her comfort zone and at 21, she was leading a climb up a mountain. Soon it became time to turn back – the track was too steep and too hard for her, but Karen, for some reason, persisted.

“My ego was like ‘no I wanna climb it’.”

So she fell off.

Three days later, Karen woke up and discovered she was paralysed from the chest down. She has since spent the last 25 years in a wheelchair.

It was the beginning of a whole new life, and initially one I wasn’t really too excited about.

Karen DarkeAdaptive Expedition Legend

At this early stage, she just couldn’t envision a world where she could do all the things she loved doing – it just didn’t seem possible anymore.

The reality hit her hard when she was moved from intensive care into a spinal injuries hospital and found herself surrounded by people in wheelchairs.

“The fact that I was facing life in a wheelchair became stark and real.”

Her dreams were filled with wonderful visions of being in the mountains, which in turn made them nightmares for Karen as she continued to wake up in the hospital, faced with her new life.

But being in the rehabilitation hospital, she soon realised while there were people in more fortunate positions than her, there were also people in more challenging positions, with severe levels of paralysis.

“I started to think, there’s still things I can do.”

Another wake-up call came in a tragic way. A friend of hers, who hadn’t climbed since her accident, took to the mountains two months later. He never returned.

“That was a huge kick up the backside to make me wake up and go hey, whatever reason you’re alive, you’re here, you have a life still and you need to make the most if it.”

This taught Karen a good many things and she started to reassess her situation – appreciating what she still had rather than focusing on what she didn’t have, which really helped her to turn things around. She started to focus on moving forward.

Fortunately for her the hospital she was in offered a wide range of adaptive sports. She started going sailing every week with her physio and with support from her friends, she tried nearly every outdoor activity under the sun. From canoeing to adaptive mountain biking, sailing, gliding, she went a little crazy.

For Karen, the activities worked as a distraction, but were also an exploration of what was possible in this new world. Eventually she settled on the sports she really liked.

She started out with downhill skiing, through a British organisation called Back Up. But with no core muscles and a lack of balance, she found it challenging.

“I was terrible at it, I fell over all the time.”

Eventually she picked it up and soon she had rekindled that love for the mountains, which had never really gone away. However, downhill skiing wasn’t enough, and soon Karen was trying out cross country skiing, wanting to get away from the people and the noisy chair lifts, to be fully immersed in the wilderness.

Her first proper foray into cross country skiing was in Finland with a group of friends. A rather miserable experience, it was constantly dark, icy and not to mention how bad Karen was at it. Her lack of core muscles sent her falling, crashing, and her paralysis meant she was unable to regulate her body temperature properly.

“I told myself I wouldn’t be doing that again.”

But her friend had loved it so much, he suggested they try something even harder – why not ski across the ice caps in Greenland?

To Karen, this was the most ridiculous suggestion, but once an idea containing adventure and uncertainty has been planted, it’s hard for her to shake. After two years of planning and training, she and a group of six others skied from the east coast to the west, across the ice caps. It took about a month, and the team had to carry enough food and fuel to survive living in the wilderness.

I couldn’t have done it without my friends, it was an incredible adventure.

Karen DarkeAdaptive Expedition Legend

Fortunately for her, the whole trip passed without incident. Two of the biggest challenges on the trip was having to manage her bladder and bowels. Karen uses a suprapubic catheter which she found fairly easy to manage – it was just a matter of making sure it didn’t get a leak. She also used a bladder wash to wash her bladder out every morning and night. She had to keep the wash inside the sleeping bag with her – otherwise it would freeze.

Her bowels were more complex. Her companions would normally squat and hover somewhere far from the tent to do their business, but Karen couldn’t risk exposing her backside to a cold wind like that for however long it would take to evacuate her bowels.

The tent they used had two endings – one which Karen says became the cooking end, the other, became her toilet.

She would dig a big hole in the snow, and then using a toilet seat specifically designed for this purpose, she would do her business.

As frequent traveller, Karen has to be constantly on top of managing her body. Somewhere as cold as Greenland, she wasn’t likely to catch any bugs or infections. But somewhere like India or Africa on the other hand, she has to be more vigilant than ever.

“I’ve changed the way I manage my bowels in the last few years, from enemas to water, and I never thought about it, I’d never travelled in a country where water might be contaminated.”

During her stay in Ethiopia earlier this year, while Karen drank bottled water, she was happily filling her bowel irrigation system with warm water from the tap. It wasn’t long before she was ill, catching a bad blood infection from the contaminated water.

“It was a bit of a wake up call and a reminder. I managed to get to a hospital and get antibiotics, but it was pretty horrific before then.”

Her foray into the sports world also eventually led her back to climbing. The trauma of her accident and having lost friends to the mercilessness of the mountains made her reluctant, but at the same time she felt a certain attraction to overcoming that fear and rediscovering the world that used to be her passion.

Her ex-boyfriend convinced her to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, and it took them about a week, sleeping on ledges along the way.

“It was a massive mental process, overcoming the fear and thinking of ways to control my mind and be able to get to a place where I could enjoy being there. But at the same time it was a rite of passage.”

As a Paralympian, cycling has always been her main sport, but during a biking trip in the Outer Hebrides, she came across a sea kayaking symposium.

“Before I knew it, I was involved in getting in a double sea kayak. It was an incredible day out, being in the ocean, that close to nature.”

Karen is not a water baby, but she really loved the connection she felt with nature, and soon enough she was hooked. She set up a group, organising sea kayaking activities for people with disabilities. While she had always travelled in a double kayak, not trusting her own strength, she came across fellow people living with paralysis who could use a single kayak. So she gave it a go too.

“I can get on well in a single kayak until a certain level of wind, about force 3 or 4, then I start to struggle, I can’t brace body enough to generate enough power.”

After making a mistake during a kayaking trip in Sweden where she had insufficient padding and developed pressure sores, Karen always makes sure her kayak is lined with foam and a thick layer of gel to prevent any issues. For those just starting out she suggests trying a range of different padding and gels on a short trip to see what works.

Like skiing, Karen has been on many kayaking adventures including a 3 month journey from Vancouver, Canada to Juno in Alaska. She left her wheelchair behind, spending her days paddling and sleeping on beaches.

“It was a really challenging journey to leave my wheelchair behind for that long, I nearly dropped out the week before, I was so freaked out at the prospect.”

It wasn’t really about needing the wheelchair, because the kayak provided her with movement and mobility, it was more about the moments are the start and end of every day where she suddenly became reliant on her team mates. But she soon realised by choosing to put herself in that environment she was inevitably going to lose some independence but in fact people love to help others.

“None of us can do everything, we all have to ask for help, it’s just intensified when you have a disability.”

Now Karen is recognised a professional athlete – something she says that was never a conscious choice, rather something that happened quite organically.

The only clear choice I have made was in November 2011, one year out from the Paralympics, not to apply for any more work.

Karen DarkeAdaptive Expedition Legend

She knew if she wanted to attend the games in London, she needed to time focus and train. Prior to this moment, Karen had only ever raced twice, and had lost both time.

After winning a medal in London she had “podium potential” and started to receive funding from UK Sport. With that and the money she makes from running her own business, she has been able to build her career as an athlete as well as have adventures in the off-season.

Her new mission is her Quest 79 – so name after 79 became a relevant number in her life; she won the 79th gold medal for Britain at the Rio games, and 79 is also gold’s number on the periodic table.

So in search of gold, her quest became to try and ride seven continents, with nine rides, one for each continent plus the two Paralympic games. At the same time raising 79,000 pounds for the Spinal Injuries association.

“It’s something I wanted to do for myself, and I wanted to encourage others to their own quest 79 and find their inner gold.”

Since, numerous people have taken on the challenge including a ten year old boy who has climbed 79 peaks in 79 weeks, raising money for a children’s charity in Africa.

As for the future, Karen is hoping to make the Tokyo Paralympic games, but is unsure after suffering burnout from Rio in 2016.

“I was training too much, it wasn’t really healthy anymore.”

Now she is working on training in a more balanced and sustainable way, nurturing her body, instead of torturing, she says.

Ultimately, she lives her life by this motto: “if what you’re thinking, saying and doing is in harmony, then that’s happiness.”

“Because if I think back to my accident, my thoughts were telling me to go back, but my body kept pushing on, my thoughts weren’t in line with my body. If you keep everything aligned, you’re far less likely to end up in trouble.”

Karen self-confesses that she’s not a social media guru, but you can follow her for updates on Twitter, Instagram and on her website. She has also written a trio of books, all of which draw inspiration from her accident and recovery journey. If you fall, and Boundless and Quest 79 are all available from her website.

Keep an eye out for her next stage of the Quest 79 which will see her take on a journey from Britain, down the Atlantic coast, across the Pyrenees, into Northern Spain.

Her ultimate Quest 79 journey, across Antarctica, is yet to come.

If you’d rather listen than read…

Listen to the Podcast with Karen Darke now.

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Retractor Location Guide - Lower Horizontal Frame Tube

Watch the video or read on below
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Brackets Used

If you choose to mount the Retractors from the lower horizontal frame tube you’ll receive two 90 Brackets (as seen below) – one for the left and one for the right side of your chair.

The Retractors slot onto these Brackets, which are then attached vertically to the Lower Horizontal Frame Tube using Clamps.

Bracket Orientation

The Brackets have a tilt feature which allows you to adjust the angle of the Retractor so that it is parallel to the Keeper, for the smoothest operation.

Key Dimensions

The clamps are 16mm or ⅝” wide

The maximum distance from the centre of the Clamp to the centre of the Retractor webbing when mounted on the 90 Bracket is 70mm (3″).

Retractor Dimensions
The Retractors themselves are 75mm wide by 50mm high or 3×2″
Moving Other Attachments

Finally, it is worth noting that other attachments, such as brakes and side guard clamps can often be moved to accommodate the LapStacker® without compromising their function.

Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given, it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Retractor Location Guide - Front Vertical Frame Tube

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Brackets Used

If you choose to mount the Retractors from the front vertical frame tube you’ll receive two Flat Brackets (as seen below) – one for the left and one for the right side of your chair.

The Retractors slot onto these Brackets, which are then attached to the front vertical frame tube using clamps.
Bracket Orientation

The Brackets have a single long slot and rotate feature, which provides plenty of adjustability so that you can align the Retractor webbing with the centre of the Keeper. 

Key Dimensions

The clamps are 16mm or ⅝” wide.

The maximum distance from the centre of the Clamp to the centre of the Retractor webbing when mounted on the Flat Bracket is 105mm (4 1/8″).

If the front vertical frame tube is too far forward to allow the Retractor webbing to align with your optimal Keeper position, or you don’t think you’ll have clearance from your legs, you may need to consider other Retractor locations available for your make and model.

The Retractors themselves are 75mm wide by 50mm high or 3×2″

Moving Other Attachments

Finally, it is worth noting that other attachments, such as brakes and side guard clamps can often be moved to accommodate the LapStacker® without compromising their function.

Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given and it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us, or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Retractor Location Guide - Cross Frame Rigidizer Bar

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Brackets Used

If you choose to mount the Retractors from the cross frame rigidizer bar, you’ll receive two Cross Tube Brackets (as seen below) – one for the left and one for the right side of your chair.

The Retractors slot onto these Brackets, which are then attached to the cross frame rigidizer bar using clamps.

Bracket Orientation

The Brackets have slots in them to allow plenty of adjustability so that you can align the Retractor webbing with the centre of the Keeper.

Key Dimensions

The clamps are 16mm or ⅝” wide.

The maximum distance from the centre of the Clamp to the centre of the Retractor webbing when mounted on the Cross Tube Bracket is 90mm ( 3.5″).

The Retractors themselves are 75mm wide by 50mm high or 3×2″

Leg Clearance

Please note, there must be clearance from the back of your legs, so we suggest mounting the Bracket and Retractor back a little bit from the edge of your cushion.

Seat Clearance

The Brackets are best tilted slightly downward, so the Retractors don’t touch the seat when the chair is in use.

Moving Other Attachments

Finally, it is worth noting that other attachments, such as brakes and side guard clamps can often be moved to accommodate the LapStacker® without compromising their function.

Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given, it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us, or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Retractor Guide – Frame Top Tube

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Brackets Used

If you choose to mount the Retractors from the frame top tube, you’ll receive two 90 Brackets (as seen below). One for the left and one for the right side of your chair.

The Retractors slot onto these Brackets, which are then attached to the top tube using clamps.

Bracket Orientation

Depending on what clearance you have available, the Brackets can be mounted forward of the clamp (above) or behind the clamp (below) to ensure that the Retractor webbing can align with the optimal keeper position.

The Brackets have a tilt feature which allows you to adjust the angle of the Retractor so that it is parallel to the Keeper, for the smoothest operation.

Key Dimensions

The clamps are 16mm or ⅝” wide.

The maximum distance from the centre of the clamp to the centre of the Retractor webbing when mounted on the 90 Bracket is 70mm or 3″.

The Retractors themselves are 75mm wide by 50mm high or 3×2″

Recommended Configuration

The Brackets are best mounted horizontally and tilted slightly downward, so the Retractors are tucked away and don’t touch the seat when the chair is in use.

 

It is very important to note that there must be clearance from the back of your legs, so we suggest mounting the Bracket and Retractor back a little bit from the edge of your cushion.

Moving Other Attachments
Finally, it is worth noting that other attachments, such as brakes and side guard clamps can often be moved to accommodate the LapStacker® clamp without compromising their function.
Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given and it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us and we’ll do our best to assist.

Side Guard Keeper Guide

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Introduction
The Side Guard Keeper is what we consider the last resort. It is only recommended after the Long and Short Keepers have been exhausted as options.
How is the Side Guard Keeper Mounted?

The Side Guard Keeper mounts inside, or cushion side, of your side guards (otherwise known as the wheel guards or clothing guards). It is fixed in place using an adhesive patch. 

 

It is not recommended for fabric side guards, although it can work there with some custom modification.

When is the Side Guard Keeper an Option?

The Side Guard Keeper could be an option when there is not enough space for a Long or Short Keeper and the side guard extends sufficiently forward of your body so that it comes close to the optimal Keeper position.

Some wheelchair makes such as the Hands on Concept range of chairs have oversized side guards and these are good examples of where a side guard can work.

Recommended Configuration

We recommend the Side Guard Keeper is located so it doesn’t sit higher than your cushion. 

 

From the testing we have done in that location, it should not interfere with the body or be a problem for skin pressure. We do recommend CAUTION and suggest that this is assessed carefully.
Retractor Alignment

Remember, the Keeper must align with the Retractor webbing so please keep this in mind as you review the Retractor Location Guides.

Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given and it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us, or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to assist.

Short Keeper Guide

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Mounting Options

The Short Keeper can be mounted to your wheelchair frame’s top tube in three ways.

1. Snap-Fit Mount

If your wheelchair has a 1” or 25mm frame top tube, the Short Keeper will be supplied with a snap fitting that is simply pressed in place onto the tubing. 

The Short Keeper is then fastened to the snap fitting and can be fine-tuned by sliding it forward and back, before tightening the bolt with the supplied allen key.

 

You’ll require 1” or 25mm of relatively flat clear space on the tubing for the snap fit mount and 55mm or 2 3/16” for the Short Keeper itself.

2. Universal Mount

If your wheelchair has a frame top tube diameter that is any size other than 1” or 25mm then a universal mount will be supplied.

The universal mount attaches via two supplied cable ties and requires 1 ⅜” or 35mm of relatively flat space on the frame top tubing to be mounted effectively.

 

Again, the position of the Short Keeper can then be fine tuned by sliding it forward and back on the universal mount.

3. Direct Mount

The Short Keeper can also be mounted directly to the tubing without the snap fit or universal mount using the supplied cable ties and rubber pad. 

Common Scenarios

There are three common scenarios where the Short Keeper is used.

Scenario 1 - Folding Wheelchairs

The first scenario is for folding wheelchairs (as below) that have a separate seat frame that moves up and down as it folds.

In this scenario the Short Keeper fixes to the frame top tube, not the seat frame, so that when the seat frame moves up and down the Short Keeper does not move.

 

If you have a folding wheelchair that doesn’t have a separate seat frame that moves up and down independently of the main frame, then the Long Keeper may be the better option for you.

Scenario 2 - Forward of the Seat Base

When there is not enough space to Velcro a Long Keeper to the solid or upholstery seat base, a Short Keeper can be mounted forward of your seat base provided there is enough flat area of tubing to mount it. 

 

Please refer to the three mounting options above to determine if you have enough space to mount the Short Keeper in this position.

Important Note - Leg Clearance

It is important to note, that in all cases where the Short Keeper is mounted forward of the seat base, the Retractors should NOT be located horizontally off the frame top tube or cross frame rigidizer bar as they will be in the way of your legs.

 

In this case, the Retractors will need to be mounted from the lower horizontal frame tube or the front vertical frame tube if these options are available for your chair. 

More about these locations is provided in the Retractor Location Guides.

Space for Hands

If you use your frame top tube as a hand hold for transfers then you may want to consider how much space you will have available after mounting the Short Keeper, remembering that it is 55mm (2 3/16”) wide. 

 

If there is insufficient space on top, you may consider mounting the Short Keeper directly under the top tube (as shown above) to give you more clearance.

Scenario 3 - With Strap/Belt Seat Upholstery

The Short Keeper may be suitable for rigid wheelchairs that use a strap/belt system for their seat base, particularly when there are doubts about aligning the Long Keeper up with these straps, or the surface area available to fix the adhesive velcro. 

 

This is covered in more detail in the Long Keeper Guide.

Retractor Alignment

Remember, the Keeper must align with the Retractor webbing so you may have to come back to the Keeper guides to double check your choice after you’ve reviewed the Retractor Location Guides.

Please Note

Unless asked, you do not have to know the frame top tube diameter of your wheelchair as this is automatically selected for you based on your make and model. 

Need Help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given, it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Long Keeper Guide

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Space Required for the Long Keeper

The Long Keeper requires 55mm or 2 3/16” of space on your solid or upholstery seat base forward of any side guards.

Is There Enough Room?

Do you have this room available? Will the location of the Keeper be close to your optimal position? If so, then the Long Keeper could work for you.

How is it Attached?

The Long Keeper attaches to the rigid or upholstery seat base, using adhesive Velcro which is provided. 

It is worth noting that an upholstery seat base or strap system often has velcro sewn into it already and this can be used in addition to the Velcro provided.

What About Strap/Belt Style Seat Upholstery?

If you have a strap system for your seat base, then you will need to determine if there is a strap close enough to your optimal Keeper position to velcro or tape the Long Keeper to.

You may be able to move the straps so that they are inline with your preferred Keeper position and if a strap already has Velcro on it, you may be able to use this in addition to the velcro supplied.

If the strap can’t be moved or you’re not sure you can stick the Long Keeper to it, then selecting the Short Keeper (shown below), which attaches directly to the top frame tube of your wheelchair, may be a better option. You can learn more in the Short Keeper Guide.

What About Folding Wheelchairs?

If you have a folding wheelchair with a rising seat frame the Long Keeper won’t be suitable and a Short Keeper will be a better option.

Retractor alignment

The other factor that is important is making sure the webbing from the Retractor lines up with the optimal Keeper position.

Need help?

If this is the only option you’ve been given, it doesn’t look like it will work, or you’ve still got questions, then please contact us or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Keeper Location Overview

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Choosing the Best Keeper Location

While in your wheelchair look down at your side and imagine using the LapStacker® to secure an item. Find the midpoint for this object and take a note of where this position is on your wheelchair frame’s top tube.

Ideally, the Keepers are positioned central to where you will carry items, but the LapStacker® will still work if forward or back of this point. 

Keeper and Retractor Alignment

It is important to note that the Keeper needs to be in a position where the webbing from the Retractor can pass freely up into the Keeper and they also need to be aligned. 

Keeper Guides

Each Keeper style has its own Guide which will help you determine its suitability. Please review these guides in the next step of the selection process. 

Need help?

If, for some reason, none of the Keeper options look like they will work for you, or you’re unsure of something, then please feel free to contact us, or your preferred reseller, and we’ll do our best to help.

Key Component Overview

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Retractors

Every LapStacker® Set has two Retractors (seen below) – one for each side of your wheelchair. These contain the tensioned strap and locking mechanism.

Retractor Locations

Depending on your wheelchair make and model, you’ll be given a number of options for where the Retractors can be mounted. 

These locations include the frame top tube, the cross frame rigidizer bar, the front vertical frame tube, and lastly, the lower horizontal frame tube which is common on folding chairs and dual tube rigid wheelchairs.

Clamps and Brackets

The Retractors mount to the wheelchair frame using a specific Clamp and Bracket (there are many types, including the 90 Bracket and  1″ Clamp seen below). 

These are both automatically selected once your preferred Retractor mounting location is chosen.

They are made from high quality and lightweight aluminium, with a stylish anodized finish.

Buckles

The Buckles attach to the Retractor straps. They use high strength magnets to guide the two sides together, then lock mechanically as the straps tighten.

They are precision machined from aircraft grade aluminium for strength and anodized for a stylish finish.

 

The Buckles are held in place by your side using Keepers. 

Keepers

We’ve designed three styles of Keeper and you’ll be asked to choose one from the available options for your chair. 

Long Keeper

The Long Keeper velcros to the wheelchair seat upholstery, or rigid seat base.

Short Keeper

The Short Keeper connects directly to the frame top tube.

Side Guard Keeper

The Side Guard Keeper mounts on the cushion side of a wheelchair’s side guards