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Power Gardener

At home in Germany, Alpha 1 Athlete Karen Skålvoll misses travel and competitions. These days, you can find her in the garden.

Flowers and plants in various stages in an outdoor garden

Sadly, Karen Skålvoll died in 2021. We continue to share her story as an inspiration to others.

By no means has Karen Skålvoll given up on training for feats of strength and endurance. The holder of several records as an adaptive athlete, she’s still lifting weights and doing the dreaded cardio at home in Germany, where she’s been riding out the global pandemic. But she’s also been cross-training by hoisting a shovel and expanding her at-home garden.

“To have a garden is for me freedom and it’s a place to rest and work all in one,” she said.

Ordinarily, Skålvoll lives a life on the move. She’s made a name for herself by becoming a fierce competitor though she requires assistive oxygen because of the rare disease Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. The genetic disorder impacts the lungs and sometimes the liver. With her fast-paced schedule, there wasn’t as much time for growing and garden tending. Now, like so many of us, there’s plenty of time at home.

She’s already put in plenty of work during the late winter thanks to her greenhouse. In February, she started her seedlings for flowers and some vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. Skålvoll and her husband also prepared raised beds and cut back the roses. When we interviewed her, she had 350 plants waiting to be planted outside. This month, Skålvoll will get seeds started for melons and pumpkins. Flower bulbs will go in the ground for late-summer blooms.  

Karen Skalvoll looking up and smiling

We asked her about her ambitious plantings and what advice she would give budding gardeners.

How did you get involved in gardening?

I have always loved gardening. My grandfather had a farm and as a girl I spent my summer there. I learned the importance of growing our own food and how to tend to living things. Through the years, I’ve always had gardens even when I lived in apartments. I had balcony gardens.

How did gardening become more important during the pandemic?

I wanted to fill my time with something meaningful and, to me, growing things gives me peace of mind. It also supplied fresh foods, in a sustainable way, while we are isolating, which we’ve been doing since March 1. 2020. Gardening takes my mind off the pandemic and lets me train differently.

What are the benefits of gardening, from your point of view. Healthy food is one, right?

Fresh food free from pesticides is one major benefit. Also the working in the garden is calming and yet challenging for the mind. Using all our senses in the garden stimulates the brain and helps creativity. Physically, we get stronger. It’s a great satisfaction to shape a landscape.

What suggestions do you have for people who want to begin gardening?

Do not get discouraged if you don’t get the exotic plants to grow first time around. Give yourself time and think of it as a learning process. Do as little or much as you can manage at one time. Be sure to tell yourself that gardening does not have a deadline. You don’t have to do everything before a certain date and what is left when the winter comes will be there in the spring.