As the opening ceremony starts in Brazil this evening, Karen Butler will be having a quiet night ahead of her first of three competitions on the opening day of the games tomorrow.
The 49-year-old joined Operation Raleigh in 1988 when we teamed up with the Jubilee Sailing Trust to offer young people with disabilities the opportunity to go on an expedition.
Karen, who has weakness in her legs caused by the spinal condition spina bifida, said: “I have always been heavily involved with Guiding and when Raleigh approached the Guides looking for people to go on expedition my name got put forward.
“I didn’t think I would be selected at all. This was nearly 30 years ago when the disability side of things wasn’t really forefront. But Raleigh wanted to encourage more disabled and underprivileged people to go.
“So when the letter came through saying I had been selected it was a total and utter shock. My dad didn’t think I would get selected so he was as shocked as I was.”
At the age of 21, Karen joined a group of 25 other young people and spent six weeks sailing across the Atlantic and another six weeks volunteering on the islands of Turks and Caicos.
There she surveyed the fish and coral, amid concerns that water-sports were having an impact on the natural habitat. They also put in permanent buoys to stop chartered boats dropping anchor on the coral and surveyed and cleaned up an area which was home to iguanas.
Karen said: “I had to learn to dive before we went because a lot of the expedition on the island was marine conservation. I loved diving, but I had a few challenges along the way. I’m a natural floater so needed a lot of weight to get me down below 10m, when I would plummet.
“We were diving one day and I thought my stab jacket had come loose because I could feel something in between my legs. But it turned out that I had a grouper fish swimming up and down my body. I haven’t got full sensation in my legs so I could just feel something there flapping which I was trying to grab. It was quite funny.
“The whole experience was amazing.”
The trip had a lasting impact on Karen.
She said: “Operation Raleigh made me realise I can do whatever I want to do.
“When I came back from Raleigh I wasn’t happy in my job and I left – I had the courage to go out and get another job. Raleigh made me realise that there’s other opportunities out there and also people a lot worse off than you in the world.”
Karen will be competing in three shooting events at the Rio Paralympics: the women’s 10m air rifle standing on September 8; the mixed 50m rifle lying on the ground on the 13th; and the women’s 50m rifle shooting in three positions – kneeling, prone or lying on the ground and standing – on the 14th.
Top ten in the world in the discipline, this will be Karen’s fifth time competing in the Paralympics.
Best of luck Karen – the Raleigh family will be cheering you on!