When Karen Williams wants to achieve something, she’ll walk over hot coals.
She’ll also stroll confidently across broken glass and jump out of a plane, even though she has a chronic fear of heights.
The determined businesswoman has faced all these challenges to demonstrate the strength of the mind, inspire others and raise money for charity.
And she’s determined to pull off more fundraising feats, even though she’s facing one of the toughest times of her life.
Karen’s challenges – including arranging fire and glass walking events – began with a ‘Year to Live’ project, which involves achieving everything you would want to do if you only had months left.
But in a cruel irony, her dad Ken Legg was diagnosed with cancer soon after she started and died just over a month ago.
Now Karen is determined to continue her fundraising drive and inspire others to live their dreams.
‘Dad was very proud and wanted me to carry on,’ says the 39-year-old.
‘There are times when it has been a real struggle. But if anything, seeing my dad go through cancer has made me really aware of the important things.
‘I really want to make an impact on others. And I want to make my dad proud if he’s looking down on us.’
Karen, who is married, lives in Portsmouth and is a trained firewalking instructor, is writing a book about her experiences.
She says: ‘I’ve realised that life is too short to say ‘‘I’ll do it one day’’, so the book aims to inspire ordinary people to live extraordinary lives.
‘It will include strategies for people to live their best lives, including creating their bucket list, changing their mindset, focusing on their goals and ideals and leaving a legacy.’
Through many of her challenges – which include a forthcoming trek to Machu Picchu in Peru – Karen raises money for the Genesis Research Trust, which supports research into mother and baby health (see panel).
She also inspires self-employed clients through her business coaching firm Self Discovery Coaching.
Karen began the Year to Live project with friend Samantha Russell.
The women followed the ideas in a book by American Stephen Levine.
He had been working with patients with terminal illnesses, helping them achieve their goals.
But he decided to open his ideas to anyone who wanted to motivate themselves, improve relationships and change their lives.
Karen’s fundraising skydive has been one of her biggest achievements.
Uneasy when she’s walking across footbridges, Karen found leaping in tandem a leg-wobbling experience.
‘I couldn’t eat before so when we got to the ground my legs were like jelly, I couldn’t get up’ she recalls. ‘But it was an exhilarating experience. I was petrified but it’s all about getting into the right mindset.’
But far tougher was coming to terms with her dad’s illness.
Ken was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus just a couple of months into her project, but at first the family were optimistic.
‘I never imagined he was going to die, I thought he would get through it and it really hit hard,’ says Karen.
Ken was on the road to recovery but his cancer returned this year.
‘He really wanted me to carry on with this, but it was particularly poignant. At one point he said “I don’t even have a year”,’ says Karen.
His support for her causes and activities is part of what gives Karen the strength to continue.
She’ll be running a business event in July, which will include a charity auction, and is still doing her Machu Picchu trek in September.
The four-day challenge will see her camping and walking to the Inca site, 2,430 metres above sea level.
Karen is willing to put her mind to almost anything and this has helped her traverse hot coals and become a firewalking instructor.
She now uses this at her business events, one of which formed part of her Year to Live project.
‘It’s quite common to use this in personal development,’ says Karen. ‘It’s all about what goes on in the mind. You need to have the belief you can do it.
‘That’s why it’s such a good exercise for people setting up businesses.’
Lose concentration and you can be injured, says Karen, who admits she ended up with a burn on the foot when she did 100 walks for her instructor training.
Walking on broken glass is about getting into a meditative zone.
When Karen started her Year to Live project she created her Vision Board – a collage of pictures representing the things she longed to achieve, including travel and making more time for loved ones.
She laughs when she reveals it, saying: ‘Yes I do this with my clients too.’
The businesswoman has recently been nominated for a national award for her work inspiring others.
And that really makes her smile. ‘I’ve had so many opportunities and I want others to have them too. I want people to make the most of their lives and not leave it too late.’
GENESIS RESEARCH TRUST
Despite countless breakthroughs in medical science, it is still not understood why some women lose their babies.
Genesis Research Trust raises money for the largest UK-based collection of scientists and clinicians who are researching conditions that affect the health of women and babies.
The trust is based at Imperial College, London in the building where the scientists look for causes and cures.
The charity’s founder is Professor Robert Winston, who has pioneered techniques that have improved fertility treatments and new treatments to improve IVF and runs a research programme at Imperial College.
Lord Winston is well-known as an author and presenter of TV shows such as Child Of Our Time and The Human Body.
The trust provides financial assistance for medical research and teaching in the field of gynaecology, obstretics and related fields in paediatrics.
Its teaching programme is internationally recognised and the work produced has the highest reputation among academics and researchers.
For information on the charity and ways to support it, visit genesis researchtrust.com.
For information on Karen Williams’ efforts to raise funds for the charity and to support her, visit justgiving.com/karen-williams1.
To find out more about Karen’s work and make contact with her, visit selfdiscoverycoaching.co.uk.