Channeled In: Allison DeFrancesco’s Legendary Swim

NYU Alumna, cancer survivor, nominee for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year, and MCASD Assistant Registrar—at 25 years old, Allison DeFrancesco has accomplished a lot. A dual U.S.-Italian citizen, Allison recently added another feat to that impressive list: becoming the first Italian woman to successfully swim the  English Channel. She completed the swim as a tribute to her NYU swim coach, Lauren Beam, who lost a courageous battle to colon cancer in September 2011. Allison, who is currently in remission herself after a two-year battle with lymphoma, balanced full-time work with swim training six days a week, swimming a weekly average of 55 miles in frigid conditions at La Jolla Cove.
Allison officially completed the swim in just 11 hours and 14 minutes. She had to overcome winds upwards of 18 mph, brave 2–3 m waves, -jellyfish, and 60º water to complete her journey. 
    Besides dispelling stigmas around discussing the “c” word, Allison is now raising money to support First Descents. We checked-in with Allison to see how she’s doing and to learn more about First Descents.
MCASD: Your efforts have gone a long way towards supporting First Descents. Tell us about what they do as an organization and why it’s so important to you.
AD: When Lauren passed away, I was struggling with the idea that I had become “that cancer patient.” One day I ran ten miles and the next I had lost my hair, control of my body, much of my short-term memory and with that, my identity. After treatment, doctors told me to go home and be “normal,” but that was the last thing I could relate to.
    Lauren’s passing was a wake-up call that I had been blessed with the unique opportunity to take a negative series of events and do something momentously positive. The Channel was to be one more way to challenge First Descents is a non-profit that provides a platform for other young adults like myself to do just that: to defy their illnesses and regain their lives through outdoor adventures.
myself and in turn, get myself outside and back on my feet.
    There is one young adult diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. every eight minutes. At that moment, their lives are forever changed by something they don’t deserve and did nothing to get.  Where we can help is in understanding the importance of survivorship and that it takes a community. First Descents provides that community and the adventure of a lifetime, free of charge.