Sport12th October 2013

Sporting Inspiration - An Interview with Karen Lewis-Archer

A Paralympian, Karen Lewis-Archer epitomises what the "You can do it" mentality is all about.

by Simon Deacy OBE

If you fancy a good laugh, follow Karen Lewis-Archer on facebook. Her daily reflections on life and motherhood will constantly entertain you. Instantly you will see that Karen is warm and intelligent, but you will also see that she does not take second best.

Karen is a veteran Paralympian, wife, mother and volunteer. She is also an inspirational speaker and through her brain child programme, ‘Gold Rush’, Karen works extensively to develop more ambitious, determined and confident young people.

Karen was born with spina bifida, and with two sporty parents, she was encouraged to get into sport. Originally an accomplished swimmer and heading for a promising international career, a turn of fate re-directed Karen to an athletic career that went on to change her life.

“Today I am a happy and contented mother, with a wonderful husband and son,” she explains. “But without my athletic career, I fear I would have become a shrinking violet, still be single and probably feeling sorry for myself!”

As a junior swimmer, Karen excelled as a member of the Scottish junior swim team. From an early age and despite being paralysed from the chest down, Karen jokes about her unique skills on poolside in getting in and out of the pool independently. These were undoubtedly early signs of the determination and need for dependency that would go on to define Karen as a person.

A swimmer with Clyde Valley Beavers, the ‘fate’ occurred following selection for the World Youth Games in Miami in 1989. “I won gold in the 50m breaststroke,” Karen describes, “but whilst there, athletics were also taking place and the wheelchair track relay team was looking for someone to fill in. They asked if I would do it.

Without the individual tailoring of wheelchairs that exists today, I was able to jump in, and just pushed hard in the race. It turned out I was quicker than the other three girls and we won the relay. I came home with two gold medals and a new sport to concentrate on!”

There is little time for looking back in Karen’s life, it is all about the next challenge or the next good deed, but it is disappointing that a wrist injury prevented her from winning Gold in the Sydney Paralympics. Despite that set back, Karen went on to win multiple international competitions, over 100m, 200m and 400m.

This is a lady passionate about disability sport and ensuring disabled people are given the platform ‘to be the best you can be’. She is intolerant of all of the negative stereotyping that still exists around any disability, and if it’s a fight you are after, just put that to the test!

“Because I’m in a wheelchair, people often assume that I am not my son’s natural mother,” Karen says with some sadness. “People see my disability and they place limitations on my intelligence and my worth in life. They could not have me more wrong if they tried!”

Karen faces adversity and challenge every day, but she thrives on it and turns overcoming it, into something incredibly positive. In 2009, even her remarkable tenacity was tested to the full when Karen endured a series of complex health issues. Over 2 years she endured a blood clot on the brain, a brain collapse, a subdural haematoma, 2 shunt replacements, as well as a further 5 neurosurgical operations. It was a difficult time.


With competition now behind her, Karen’s ambitions lay in helping and inspiring others. People who have the privilege of listening to her, or being part of one of her inspirational programmes, all testify to her considerable attributes and abilities.

To book Karen for an event, just go to or contact

Article by Simon Deacy OBE

posted in Deaf Sport / Sport

12th October 2013