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Down syndrome doesn't mean defeat, says Gaffney

PLATTSBURGH - Karen Gaffney has always believed there's nothing she can't do. Now, she can add swimming across Lake Champlain to her list of achievements.

Despite being born with Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder which affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone, Gaffney has challenged herself to show people living with Down syndrome are able to do many of the same things people without the condition can do. Her latest evidence came as she stepped upon the shore of Plattsburgh City Beach Sept. 18, after swimming more than 8.5 miles across Lake Champlain from South Hero, Vt., adding to her list of completed aquatic challenges that includes swimming across Lake Tahoe, Boston Harbor and the English Channel.

"It was something new and different and I love doing something new and challenging," said the 39-year-old Gaffney, who also suffers from hip dysplasia.

Escorted across the lake by a team of pacers - swimming alongside her and on kayak, boat and jet skis - Gaffney completed her personal challenge in less than six hours. However, it was an easier challenge than her lifelong battle to overcome the feeling of being different, she said.

When she addressed a crowd of more than 1,200 people the following day at Melissa L. Penfield Park, during the 13th annual Buddy Walk, Gaffney spoke about how much more of a challenge living with Down syndrome can be.

"Classrooms, school hallways, cafeterias and gyms can be pretty lonely places for people like me. Once we're all out of school it can be even lonelier," she said. "I'd like to sit at a table in a cafeteria and have others sit down next to me rather than pass me by or get up when I sit down. I would like to look up and see a friendly smile rather than look up and see someone look away."

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