Early Life

Karen Gaffney, a member of the IDD community, is still one of the most record-breaking athletes with down syndrome. Gaffney was born in California in 1977, and from then on, she went off to show the world how well she could conquer the water. At 4-foot-10 and 95 pounds, she has undergone many surgeries with a pronounced limb, yet she still swam on! Even at a young age, she learned to walk at the same time she learned to swim. When she attended school at St.Mary’s, she was the first person to earn a varsity letter. She did not win this with no easy feat; she participated in every practice and earned this high achievement by completing the 500 Meter Swim.

“If you ever start to feel sorry for yourself, if you ever have thoughts of quitting, if you ever have thoughts of missing practice . . . remember me, and know that there are many, many people like me who would trade places with you in a minute.”

Karen Gaffney

At a young age, she learned to swim through a down syndrome intervention program. However, she had problems with her limbs and required regular surgery. Each time she went into surgery, she came out and right back to the water to continue her career at becoming the IDD Community athlete voice.

A Down syndrome life is worth saying yes to' | Opinion | Opinions and  Editorials | nola.com

“I would start in the pool and gradually make my way to solid ground,”

Karen Gaffney

Professional Career

Not only was she successful in the pool and a great swimmer from such a young age, but her accomplishments also continued outside the pool. She became the first swimmer to complete a relay swim across the English Channel in the year 2001. Now the English channel is a grave difficulty, and many swimmers try to conquer it yet are unsuccessful. For Karen Gaffney, this was no easy feats with months of training, yet she completed it! The English channel was not the end for Gaffney, who six years later in 2007 swam across Lake Tahoe at a staggering nine-mile span. Along with this achievement, it became the centerpiece of the documentary “Crossing Tahoe: A Swimmers Dream.”

Amazon.com: Crossing Tahoe: A Swimmer's Dream: Karen Gaffney, Will  Schermerhorn: Movies & TV

Two years later, she swims a five-mile stretch of the Boston Harbor to honor Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Along with her success in the open waters, she earned two gold medals in the Special Olympics and completely sixteen swims across the San Francisco Bay. Then in 2010, she received the Global Down Syndrome Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.

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Academic Achievements

Karen Gaffney | Adults with Down Syndrome Task Force

Her grand achievements did not stop at the swimming pool; she was the first living person with Down Syndrome to achieve an honorary doctorate at the University of Portland in May 2013. Karen Gaffney is setting goals not just for the IDD community but for all of us. She represents the idea if you have a plan or ambition, no matter your disability, go out and strive for greatness!