As she set out to break world records in Norway, Karen Skalvoll felt prepared. She had trained for several months at Jakabol (“The Nest of Giants”) in Iceland with legendary strongman Magnus ver Magnusson and appropriately managed her life threatening condition -- alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1). Alpha-1 is a rare disease that prevents the body from producing a protein that plays an important role in protecting the lungs from damage.
People with this disease say that it can make breathing feel like taking in air through a coffee stirrer.
Despite this Karen set her sights on breaking world records – becoming the first woman, the first person using oxygen therapy and the first disabled athlete to pull a MiG-15 and an F-104 Starfighter – 15 meters (approximately 50 feet) down a runway by herself, using only raw human strength. The MiG-15 weighs approximately 3.5 tons, while the Starfighter clocks in at around 7 tons.
Karen says she went after the world records, “To show that impossible reads ‘I am possible,’ that life with serious lung disease can be a good life.”
Karen’s coach was impressed with her efforts. During a segment on the event broadcast on Norwegian national news, Ver Magnusson said of Karen, “I always meet somebody that amazes me more than the others. Karen is one of those persons. (She’s) very special.”
While Karen is proud of her accomplishment, she is just getting warmed up. “We plan to travel and I will pull a series of fighter jets. We hope an F-16 Fighting Falcon will be available at the end of August, fingers crossed,” she said. The inspiring feats-of-strength tour is dubbed “Fighter vs. Fighter.”
The tour follows Karen garnering attention last year for breaking a world record in the Arnold Classic, a bodybuilding competition named for actor and legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the 2017 event in Columbus, Ohio, Karen deadlifted 125kg, setting a new world record in the disabled strongman female standing division.
Karen’s activities this summer aren’t limited to pulling fighter jets. In July, she took home the title “Germany’s Strongest Disabled Woman” for the second year in a row. She also qualified for the World’s Strongest Disabled Man 2018, which will take place in Bodø, Norway, in September.
Karen says she does this to show people with Alpha-1 that they too can live full lives and achieve their goals.
Want to follow Karen’s adventures? She’s active on Instagram under the username Alpha_1_Athlete.