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Taking The Plunge: Central Oregonians will brave the English Channel to benefit Down syndrome research

By Jim Witty, The Bulletin

Sara Quan, Mike Tennant, Laura Schob, and Tom Landis are four Central Oregonians willing to go the extra mile for a good cause.

They're part of Team Gaffney, a dozen athletes who plan to swim the English Channel - from Dover, England, to Calais, France -- next summer to raise funds for the Karen Gaffney Foundation, an organization dedicated to championing full inclusion for people with Down syndrome and other disabilities.

But first, on Dec. 31, the team will gather at the Athletic Club of Bend's outdoor pool, heated to a teeth-gnashing 62 degrees to simulate conditions in the channel, and swim to raise funds for the foundation and their journey. The public is invited to the free event, either to take the chilly plunge or to watch the team members shiver. Karen Gaffney will also be on hand.

For 11 of the swimmers, the 12- to 16-hour relay in 60-degree water against strong currents will be a formidable challenge. For the 12th member -- Karen Gaffney of Portland - it will be something much more. But, Gaffney, who has Down syndrome, is living proof that tenacity and attitude can overcome just about any obstacle.

Nov. 22, Gaffney is a graduate of St. Mary's Academy in Portland, where she lettered in swimming, and has a 3.5 grade point average at Portland Community College. She gives motivational speeches across the country and swims two miles a day in preparation for the English Channel.

She's the spark that will propel the swimmers through the 21-mile open water swim.

"The English Channel is something I thought about years ago, but I knew I couldn't because it was too cold," said Tennant.

"But the thought of a relay for a good cause gives me a chance to mark it off the list of life accomplishments."

The 12 swimmers will divide into two teams. Each person will swim an hour at a stretch, said Tennant, a Bend real estate developer. Six will swim three legs; six will swim two. The Central Oregon contingent is a talented crew.

Landis, 58, a retired llama packer/outfitter, has the most open water swimming experience of the Central Oregon group, having negotiated the channel between Maui and Lanai in Hawaii and served as a lifeguard in Southern California.

At 28, Quan is the youngest of the four, and the fastest. A fitness trainer, she holds the national record in the 6,000-yard swim for the 25 through

Schob, 42, is a teacher at Cascade Middle School and has been a competitive swimmer since she was 8. She's a national 10-kilometer champion in her age group.

Tennant, 47, a masters swimmer, competed with the others in a 10-K race in southern Oregon this year. He's vowed to eat a peanut butter sandwich every day to gain a few pounds to ward off the frigid temperatures in the Channel.

But it's Gaffney who sets the pace.

Last summer, she told a group of student athletes at Santa Clara University in California: "I hope I complete the swim. But, If I do, I would trade that very moment I would first touch the shore of Calais, France, with any of you -- for your worst day of practice -- for your worst day of competition ... You have so much. I hope you know how lucky you are."

To learn more about the Karen Gaffney Foundation, log on to the Internet at

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