CARA YAR KHAN
By anyone’s definition, Cara Elizabeth Yar Khan has lived an extraordinary life. She worked in Angola after a 27-year civil war, in Haiti after the earthquake; she has climbed mountains, dove oceans, chased adventure, and faced dangers few ever encounter. But by the time Cara found herself descending into the Grand Canyon on horseback, it was Cara’s own body that had become the greatest threat to her life.
India-born and Canada-raised, Cara grew up running, playing sports and dancing. But in her late twenties, she began to experience a series of inexplicable falls. By age 30, Cara had been diagnosed with Hereditary Inclusion Body Myopathy (HIBM) a recessive muscle wasting condition that affects all 650 skeletal muscles from head to toe. The HIBM patient community accounts for only 2,000 people worldwide. There is no treatment or cure.
Refusing to be deterred by other people's low expectations of living with this condition, Cara became the Disability Focal Point for UNICEF. After living in nine emergency and post-conflict countries, Cara’s disease had progressed to a point that she could no longer work in the field, so she came to the United States as a public speaker for children with disabilities. In the years since, Cara became a leading international human rights advocate promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities within all facets of society. She calls her pronounced gait her “sexy strut” and when she needed to start using a walker, she painted it shiny gold and nicknamed it Cleopatra. She lives by example, shattering stigma and stereotypes with her own actions, publicly sharing her story and shining the spotlight on other disability champions.
But Cara knows that her body is dying. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. So she wanted to do something that would make an impact. She wanted to take another grand adventure. And what is grander than the Grand Canyon?
At the time of the expedition, Cara was still walking, albeit with the help of her walker, Cleopatra. Cara now uses a power wheelchair. Her transition from a walker to a wheelchair happened within a year of completing her Grand Canyon expedition.
Cara is the recipient of the
2015 Porsche and National Center for Civil and Human Rights Driving Force Award,
2015 PATH International Adult Equestrian of the Year Award,
2018 Canada’s Champion for Inclusion & Diversity,
2018 Atlanta Magazine Women Making a Mark Honoree and
2018 Outstanding Voice Diversity & Inclusion Award from the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
In December 2019, Cara was the closing guest speaker at TED Women. To date her talk has been viewed more than 2 million times. http://go.ted.com/caraeyarkhan