Paralympian and businesswoman

Born: October 12, 1974;

Died: December 14, 2016

KAREN Lewis-Archer, who has died aged 42, was an exceptional athlete with an innate ability to transform adversity into opportunity. She is remembered as one of the finest female wheelchair athletes Scotland has produced, leaving a legacy of hope for those inspired by her example.

The daughter of a swimming coach, she was born with spina bifida, paralysed from the waist down, but was encouraged to participate in sports almost from infanthood. Excelling initially in the water with a gold medal at a world championship she then rose to a last-minute challenge of racing on the athletics track – a decision that changed the course of her career as she embraced a new sport that took her to the Paralympic Games.

Living by the mantra that nothing, including a series of health issues, is ever a hurdle, she went on to become an influential champion of disabled athletes, an inspirational speaker, and an author and mother.

Born in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, she was persuaded to join Clyde Valley Beavers by her mother Christine who was a swimming coach there. The youngster soon proved her prowess in the pool and quickly became a member of the Scottish junior swim team.

In 1989 the Carluke High School pupil was selected to swim for Great Britain at the World Games for Disabled Youth in Miami and won gold in the 50m breaststroke. Coincidentally the track relay team was also looking for someone to fill a place and she agreed to take part. She promptly won another gold medal in the relay.

After returning to Scotland she joined Glasgow’s Red Star Athletic Club and forged an important working relationship with Ian Mirfin, head of Wheelchair Racing (Scotland) who she credited as a major influence in her life. For the next three years she alternated between swimming and wheelchair racing but finally opted to concentrate on the latter. She was selected for the British team for the IPC World Championships in Birmingham and won T52 gold in the 400m, silver in the 800m and bronze in the 1500m.

She was a regular in the British team from 1998 to 2004 and the millennium saw her selected for the Paralympic Games athletics team for the Sydney games and graduate with an Open University degree in leisure management. But just before the contest in Australia she developed serious problems with her arm and wrist. Faced with the choice of surgery or going ahead with the race with her painful joint strapped up, she could not give up the chance to take part and, despite her injury, finished fourth in the 100m and 400m events.

Four years later she was again in the Paralympic team, this time for the games in Athens, and though she did not feature in the medal table then she had already amassed a clutch of European and World athletics gold and silvers.

She was also working in various posts in leisure and sports management organisations. Her career included a spell as Scottish Disability Sport’s national development officer where she was known for her passion for inclusion and support of the national events programme. Then in 2003 she married her husband Wayne, a Geordie painter and decorator she met through mutual friends, and the following year she became sports development officer with North Tyneside Council.

But two of her life’s greatest achievements were the births of her son Dylan, who arrived in July 2005, the same day that London learned it had won the 2012 Olympics, and daughter Felicity, born in 2014. For many years she combined motherhood with work and studying, graduating with her second degree, a Master of Science in sports management from Northumbria University in 2007.

However in 2009 she suffered a series of complex health issues and over two years endured a blood clot on the brain, a brain collapse, subdural haematoma, two shunt replacements and five further neurosurgical operations.

Battling back to fitness, this remarkable woman returned to full-time work in 2011 developing two new projects – the Gold Rush concept and writing a series of children’s books.

Through Gold Rush she drew on her own achievements to offer motivational workshops, seminars, training and conference sessions aimed at setting others on the path to success.

In her Kellie-Kahn-Do books she created the character of an adventurous 10-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair but is determined she can do anything to which she puts her mind.

Mrs Lewis-Archer, who was inducted into South Lanarkshire Disability Sport’s Hall of Fame the same year, carried the paralympic torch bearer for the Paralympics in 2012.

She also served on the boards of governors and trustees of a Gateshead primary and secondary school and a great deal of her work involved striving to embrace and include “hard to reach” groups in sports.

Over the years she had faced barriers, a degree of prejudice and the “Does she take sugar?” attitude but she credited sport with giving her a voice – becoming loud and proud, forthright and opinionated, or “gobby” as she once described herself.

She knew how to fight, for herself and others, and latterly showed great courage when confronted with further neurological issues and complications related to cancer. It was one last struggle she could not overcome

She is survived by her husband Wayne, children Dylan and Felicity, parents Christine and Clifford and sister Sharon.