The Karen Gaffney Foundation
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Gaffney, Team Find Inspiration In Each Other

By Katy Muldoon, The Oregonian

DOVER, ENGLAND - Karen Gaffney, the 23-year old Portlander who last week became the first person with Down syndrome to swim the English Channel, rose from a jam-packed table at a quaint Italian restaurant for a toast.

"You were my inspiration," she told the 11 Oregonians who were her relay teammates for last weeks channel swim.  "Thank you."

Gaffney, in fact, inspired 11 swimmers ages 16 to 59, from Portland, Bend and Camp Sherman, to form two relay teams intent on swimming the notoriously cold, rough, 21-mile stretch of water between Dover, England to Calais, France.

Years ago, she and her father, Jim, managing partner for Moss Adams, a downtown Portland accounting firm, began to talk and dream about setting the channel swim as a goal.  Jim Gaffney started to teach Karen to swim when she was 9 months old, and considered the sport a great source of exercise for his disabled daughter.

Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality, leaves children with challenging mental and physical disabilities.  Karen Gaffney's included severe hip dislocation and for her, swimming was, and still is, easier than walking.

But little about swimming the English Channel was easy.  Members of Team Gaffney endured 61-degree water.  They swam through kelp beds and schools of red, white and purple jellyfish.  Several swimmers suffered seasickness while they were aboard the pilot boats that accompanied them and while they were in the water.

At one point, swimmer Kathryn Haslach of Portland was nearly pulled from the water -- which would have ended the relay -- when a Russian freighter appeared headed directly for her and the Viking Princess, the pilot boat that accompanied her.  Contacted by maritime safety officers the freighter turned sharply out of Haslach's path as its wake washed over her.

At another point, Mike Tennant of Bend appeared so sick and cold that his teammates considered stopping his swim.  Tennant suffered seasickness all day and night but still swam three one-hour legs of the relay.  His brother, Joe of Portland wrapped him in a warm hug after he climbed back in the boat.

In the end, both teams finished under pitch-black skis after midnight Tuesday, a few miles apart, one on a sandy beach south of Calais, the other below a rocky cliff.  The relays took a little longer than 14 hours; the team stories that followed took much longer.

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