Alumna Attempts Swim for Leukemia Research Funds
July 11, 2011 – International marathon swimming champion Elaine Howley (C’00), who lost her younger sister to leukemia, attempted a 50-mile swim Saturday on Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island to raise money for research on the disease.
According to the Providence Journal, she swam 25 of the 50 miles.
Under English Channel rules, the 33-year-old could not wear wetsuits, flippers or use paddles. Eating and drinking had to be done while treading water and she was not allowed to touch the boat or another person for the entirety of the swim.
Pales in Comparison
“I’m nervous, naturally, but am feeling ready for the event,” said Howley, a resident of Waltham, Mass., in an email July 6. “I’ve never swum for more than 15 hours at a time, so this event will be an enormous stretch. But I know that this challenge pales in comparison to what cancer patients have to battle every day in their fight for survival.”
Ironically, when the German and studio art major was on the swim team at Georgetown, she wasn’t known for her speed.
“Being involved with the swim team also did wonders for me,” said Howley, now a proposal writer for an engineering firm. “I became a more social person and learned you don't have to be the fastest person on the team to be a leader. I still think of that when I'm struggling through a long swim. It’s not the speed, it’s the journey and the wonderful people you meet along the way that matters.”
In 2010, the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame recognized her as one of the world record holders for the fastest Boston Light “Double,” a 16-mile out-and-back swim across the Boston Harbor.
Howley cited B.G. Muhn, a Georgetown professor of painting and drawing, as an important influence.
“I loved working with him because he was relaxed but very focused and just knew so much about the art I was most interested in,” she explained.
She said her coursework at the university “seismically shifted the way I thought about things and approached life.”
Howley set out for the swim Saturday at 9 a.m. – an hour earlier than her friend Ray Gandy, 49, whose wife underwent a successful bone marrow transplant in 1993.
Gandy, who swam the English Channel in 2009, has also served as a bone marrow donor.
The two raised money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a non-profit organization that supports blood cancer research and patient outreach programs.
Coping with Illness
Howley was the donor in 1986 when her younger sister died of leukemia after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant.
“I was only eight when I lost my three-year-old sister to leukemia,” she said. “I was devastated and felt inadequate for what I perceived as a failure of excruciating magnitude, but swimming helped me cope and come to terms with what had happened.”