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Beating the Odds: Meet Karen

Young woman with a horse.

One of Team Australia’s youngest athletes, 16-year-old Karen Messmer has overcome much adversity already. She was born nearly three months early, weighing in about 1 lb, 13 oz. She also had a hole in her heart. Yet, even then, Karen seemed determined to reach her goals.

Her mother, Suzanne, recalls that Karen had to work hard to gain strength and stamina, despite hypotonia and other conditions related to her premature birth. Karen really started gaining confidence, as well as muscle development, when she took up horseback riding. A turning point came when she got involved in equestrian training with Special Olympics. First, the training helped her get stronger and develop more skills; then, she just kept getting better. Soon, she felt confident enough to enter local competitions. Eventually, Karen started working toward another, loftier goal: competing at the next Special Olympics World Games, set for June 2023 in Berlin, Germany.

Of course, Karen’s dad, Gunther, was always one of her biggest boosters. He also shared Karen’s dream of going to the 2023 World Games in Berlin, as Gunther was of Austrian/German heritage. Together, they talked of returning to the family’s homeland in Germany and perhaps visiting long-lost relatives. But Gunther died in November 2021, the victim of a violent robbery. “He never got to know Karen qualified for selection for Team Australia,” says her mom. “He would have been very proud.”

“Follow your dreams and always keep trying."
Karen Messmer

In his memory, Karen persevered. She continues working to be the best she can be. She also continues a strict training regiment, which requires a lot of dedication—especially when balancing her school schedule. Ahead of World Games, you’ll find Karen training before daybreak at least three times a week, usually around at 4:30 am. That’s how she’s getting ready to compete, overcoming any obstacles in her way, as she is used to doing. In her words, “Follow your dreams and always keep trying."

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