Karen Thornton

Karen Thornton loves to fly. For her fiftieth birthday while on vacation in Lumby, B.C., Karen’s husband, Ken bought her a glider flight. “What a trip that was!” explains Karen. “When we landed, I couldn’t feel my feet on the ground I was so high!”

But that was only the beginning. Five years later, she was taken up in a motorized hang glider in Hope, B.C. Then, for her sixtieth birthday, her daughter gave her a flight in a hang glider. “The feeling of total freedom I get is indescribable!” exclaims Karen. Next on her list of things to try is paragliding.

Things have not always been carefree for Karen. When she was 18 years old and pregnant, doctors diagnosed Karen with Neurofibromatosis Type One (NF1). Unfortunately, Karen’s daughter, Kim, was also born with NF1 and had to have a tumour removed from her mouth shortly after birth. Karen also has a son, Dan, who did not inherit NF1.

Karen enjoys spending time with Dan’s two daughters, who are five and two. Karen is a spontaneous mutation, as her parents and siblings do not have NF1. Karen has lived with tumours on various parts of her body since childhood, but the pregnancy made the tumours grow and new ones to appear on her face and neck. “The biggest challenge for me was the fear of meeting people and not being accepted due to the visible tumours,” says Karen. “My interest in motorcycles and motorcycle riding (as a passenger only) is what enabled me to overcome my self-image hang-up.”

Karen and her husband bought their Honda Gold Wing motorcycle in 1990 and rode for a couple of years before they joined the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA). “I was accepted for who I was,” says Karen. They became provincial directors in the organization and met hundreds of people. According to Karen, “I had never had so many people wanting to hug me!” To many people, owning a Gold Wing means buying chrome, lights, and accessories for their bikes. After becoming friends with the owner of a bike shop in Bremerton, Washington, Karen decided she would like to start her own business. She now runs a small, home-based business selling motorcycle accessories called Karen’s Krome. You can visit her website at karenskrome.com. •