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Sheffield woman determined to give children life changing opportunity by raising funds for charity

Karen is running the London Marathon next year for the Outward Bound Trust
Karen is running the London Marathon next year for the Outward Bound Trust
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A woman from Sheffield is determined to change the lives of children, by helping to give them the opportunity she was given years ago, an opportunity she says changed her life.

Karen Gardener, 33, from Ecclesall, fell in love with the outdoors at a young age and despite not starting out with the best opportunities in life, she says she wouldn't have been able to achieve her dream without the help of several charities along the way.

Karen thanks numerous charities which helped her out and enabled her to gain her dream job

Karen thanks numerous charities which helped her out and enabled her to gain her dream job

Before she was born, her father was in the army, but had to leave after his lungs collapsed 11 times within a short space of time, leaving him unemployed for a while and scared to leave the house.

This meant her family had to live off her mother's wage as a cleaner, meaning they had no disposal income, so paying for expensive school trips was out of the question.

Karen, who is originally from York, said: "Me and my sister came from a poor background, we lived in a housing association house but were always alright.

"My parents were amazing, they always made us feel equal.

Karen is determined to change the lives of children and help give them opportunities like the ones she had

Karen is determined to change the lives of children and help give them opportunities like the ones she had

"Residentials were expensive, everybody went and if you didn't you were a loser. Luckily we got ours subsidised.

"It never embarrassed me, but I would have definitely missed out if they weren't paid for.

"At around 11 or 12 it's your first time away from home. It's like a giant sleepover, it's exciting, trying crazy things, rock climbing, in rivers, seeing the countryside.

"It's a massive eyeopener, I realised it was where I wanted to be. I will remember the residentials for the rest of my life, they're life changing."

Karen had originally set her sights on being in the army, after joining the sea cadets at age 11, and learning to sail and kayak a year later.

School was not a strong point, as Karen said: "I didn't do great in my exams, I wasn't the worst but I wasn't the best."

"I constantly misbehaved at school, nothing major, and instead of teachers trying a different approach with me, they just wrote me off.

"Just because you struggle to concentrate in school does not make you a bad kid."

But luckily, a charity steered her in the right direction, and invited her to weekly career advice meetings, where she decided she wanted to become an instructor.

It was suggested she study Public Services in Sheffield, and thanks to charities such as the Princes Trust, this was possible as they paid for her equipment and travel.

She added: "It's been absolutely incredible since then.

"Kayaking, sailing, climbing, these sports seem so inaccessible to people with lower income backgrounds. But there’s ways! Sea/army/air cadets, scouts.

"I’ve met an awful lot of people whos parents sent them to Australia to get their sailing instructor qualifications, that’s another world to me. I did mine in the winter on lakes in Sheffield and Rotherham and the river Ouse in York, tough but still amazing."

After training, she spent five years in her 'dream job' teaching children water sports, a job she says was challenging at times, as she taught some with behavioural issues, but at times she felt she could relate.

Despite leaving her career as a outdoor water sports instructor 10 years ago due to family reasons, she now wants to raise money for a charity who use the outdoors to help develop young people from all walks of life and give others the opportunity she was given.

And despite giving birth eight months ago, next year the mum-of-two will take part in the London Marathon, with the hopes of raising funds for the Outward Bound Trust.

She said: "I wanted to do something amazing for kids. I'm re-conditioning my body and it's making me feel wonderful.

"It's rewarding and good for the mind. I'm, a stay at home mum for the time being. Running is my only head time, I can run as fast or as slow as I want, I'm in control.

"I care about the future and our children. I had a wonderful life because people helped me out."

She is also hoping to hold a raffle with help from Zip Slides UK, which would see a Zipline over Underbank Resevoir in Sheffield, with all proceeds going to the charity.

You can find out more about Karen's fundraising here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/karen-gardner15