The National Advocate for People with Down Syndrome Since 1979

National Down Syndrome Society
666 Broadway, 8th Floor
New York New York 10012
800-221-4602
info@ndss.org 

Swimmer, Self-Advocate, and Friend
Swimmer, Self-Advocate, and Friend

I am a swimmer, a really LONG distance swimmer, and have been swimming ever since I was 9 months old. My dad taught me how to swim because he thought it would be good for me. And after a few hip surgeries, swimming was my way of learning to walk again. Swimming is as much a part of my life as eating or sleeping. I swim about 2 miles a day 6-7 days a week. I do big open water swims to raise awareness of the capabilities of those with Down syndrome. My first big open water swim experience was a 6-person relay across the English Channel. I trained for a year for this swim, and it paid off. Once we touched the French Shore I knew that anything would be possible if I put my heart and mind to it, so not only was I the first person with Down syndrome to complete a swim across the English Channel, but I kept swimming into record books from then on. I regularly compete in what is called the "Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon." I swim with a relay team from my hometown of Portland, OR. Naturally, I am the swimmer on the team! I have completed 16 swims from Alcatraz Island to Chrissy Field practicing for these races, and unlike some famous prisoners that have attempted this swim, I have lived to tell about it! My biggest swim challenge yet, was a 9 mile non-stop swim across the width of Lake Tahoe. The lake has no current to help a swimmer, only lots of wind to get in my way! I swam on September 25, 2007 and for some reason that decided to be one of the most beautiful and calmest days of the year. If you are interested in learning about my swim, my friend Will Schermerhorn who's son Mason has Down syndrome, made a wonderful film about it called "Crossing Tahoe: A Swimmer's Dream." I just swam the Boston Harbor, on October 8th of last year. I was hoping to swim 8 miles from the Boston Lighthouse on Little Brewster Island to the beach at the L Street Bathhouse. I ended up only swimming 5 miles of the swim, because of the strong winds and huge waves. The coast guard issues a small craft advisory, so we had to reposition closer to shore where the water was calmer. Even though I didn't finish all 8 miles, I helped the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress raise funds, and awareness for their Buddy Walk. And you know what, I'm going to go back and try again! What's my next swim you ask? Watch my website" I have 2 big swims coming up, and all the information will be on my website! When I'm not swimming, I am working at my non-profit organization, The Karen Gaffney Foundation, which is dedicated to championing the journey to full inclusion in families, the schools, the workplace, and the community, for individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. I travel all over the nation and the world to give talks and put on workshops for different organizations to help raise awareness and funds to support the programs I put on through the foundation. You can learn more about me and the work I do by visiting my website at www.karengaffneyfoundation.com . Thank you for taking the time to read My Great Story, and I look forward to keeping you up to date on my upcoming swims and events.




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