PLATTSBURGH - Each year, Tracy Rotz hopes to make the Buddy Walk bigger and better. And, this year, he thinks he has the winning combination to do just that.
The annual event, hosted by the North Country Down Syndrome Association, will be enhanced by a special guest speaker, Karen Gaffney of Portland, Ore. Gaffney, a 32-year-old woman with Down Syndrome, has gained nationwide recognition in her role as president of the Karen Gaffney Foundation, which focuses on advancing the rights of those with the genetic disorder.
"She's the best motivational speak I've ever heard," said Rotz. "I think everyone should hear her speak."
Gaffney was asked to speak at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh last October after Rotz had listened to presentations given by her in Denver, Colo., and Washington, D.C. Rotz wanted to bring her back this year to speak at the Buddy Walk, but Gaffney took the invitation one step further.
"When she was here last year, she spoke about swimming across Lake Tahoe to raise awareness for Down Syndrome and prove how if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything," said Rotz. "Someone asked her what her next challenge would be and she said, 'How about Lake Champlain?'"
And, from then, Gaffney decided she would swim an 8.5-mile stretch of the lake that divides New York and the Green Mountain State.
In advance of the annual Buddy Walk this Sunday, Sept. 19, Gaffney will swim from South Hero, Vt., to the Plattsburgh City Beach. She will be joined by a team of pacers who will get in and out of the water during the swim to help keep her on pace and on the route. Weather permitting, Gaffney will set out on her personal challenge at approximately 6:30 a.m., expecting to arrive on the New York side of the lake around 11 a.m.
"I would love see to thousands of people, but at least a couple hundred people on the beach Saturday waiting for her so when she gets out of the water she has this huge reception," said Rotz, "just letting her know how much the North Country appreciates her coming here doing what she does."
Gaffney will be back out in the community the following day when the North Country Down Syndrome Association kicks off Buddy Walk festivities at 12 p.m. Sunday. The event will begin with registration until 1 p.m., when the less than one-mile walk sets out from Melissa L. Penfield Park on Boynton Avenue. Walkers will reassemble at the park following the walk, at which time Gaffney will give a motivational speech.
"I think people are going to walk away thinking what an unbelievable individual she is and be very touched by it," said Rotz.
There is no cost to participate in the walk, though donations for the North Country Down Syndrome Association will be accepted. Participants will receive a free T-shirt and wrist bands with statements in support of those with Down Syndrome.
For more information about this week's events, contact Rotz at 563-5553 or visit www.ncdsasite.org.