Paraplegic Swimmer's Message Got Across

Posted: October 03, 1986

There were rousing cheers at the welcome home rally held for Jim McGowan yesterday afternoon on Temple University's Berks Mall.

"My doctor in Dover told me I would survive the English Channel swim, but not the welcoming home in Philadelphia," said the 54-year-old paraplegic marathon swimmer in response to a thunderous round of cheers from more than 1,000 Temple students and faculty. McGowan was treated in Dover, England, for hypothermia.

But the cheers turned to jeers when Temple President Peter J. Liacouras took stage center. He got a Bronx cheer from students who blame him for the current impasse in contract talks between Temple and faculty members represented by the American Association of University Professors.

"Tell people there will be no school on Monday," yelled one student, referring to teachers' threats not to show up for work that day.

"Why not just give us, and Jim, the day off?" shouted another.

Both Liacouras the jeered and McGowan the cheered just smiled. "I'll be here Monday," Liacouras replied, never skipping a beat. "How about you?"

Last Saturday, McGowan, 54, paralyzed from the chest down, attempted to swim the English Channel. Cold water and a catheter problem forced him out of the water about three miles off the coast overlooked by Dover's White Cliffs.

Asked if he might try again to swim the Channel, McGowan said tearfully, ''You tell me I've already made it."

The Brooklyn native has been an inspiration to other disabled at Temple through his many physical activities. He has made about 20 skydiving jumps and plays wheelchair basketball.

A graduate student in counseling psychology, McGowan works for Temple's Office for the Disabled, counseling other handicapped people and encouraging them to get active physically.

He became paralyzed when he was stabbed by a member of a Brooklyn street gang in 1951. Complications after surgery worsened his condition.

But now that he has returned to his job at Temple, McGowan plans to continue what he does best: "Singing life's melodies. And sing as many as you can before we all shuffle off this mortal planet," he advised his cheering followers.

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