Rower sexually assaulted while raising money for cancer research returns to Chicago

August 14, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Jenn Gibbons began her 1,500-mile solo journey in June to raise money for breast cancer.

Gibbons was attacked last month while sleeping in her boat when it was docked in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Tuesday, she talked about her accomplishment and why she decided to go on.

Typically, ABC7 would not identify the victim of a sexual assault. But, in this case, Gibbons chose to go public. Tuesday, as she returned to Chicago, gibbons said sharing her story is healthy for her and -- she hopes -- for others.

Gibbons' little yellow vessel captured an unusual amount of attention as it pulled into Monroe Harbor.

Gibbons traveled the 1,500 miles around the perimeter of Lake Michigan by herself. The rowing coach planned for this. It would be a tribute to the women on her team who are cancer survivors and a fundraiser for her team.

Gibbons anticipated the weather and the waves. But she was met with more than she anticipated.

About half way through that journey, Gibbons was sexual assaulted by a man who apparently followed her travel online.

Tuesday, Gibbons refused to spend too much time talking about the attack. She wanted to focus on being a survivor and celebrating the strength she found along the way.

"I learned a lot about myself," Gibbons said. "I learned that I'm extremely strong and a lot stronger than I thought I was."

Gibbons said the women on her team inspired her to take the trip.

Since the attack, Gibbons said she continues to draw on their strength and the support of other sexual assault survivors.

"I feel really fortunate to have this team around me," said Gibbons. "They certainly showed their support when it happened."

Now back on land, Gibbons hopes to be an advocate for others who have been sexually assaulted, and of course she needs to adjust to not sleeping on a bed that floats.

"It's a little weird. I still feel like I have to keep going," Gibbons said. "So it's a little strange. I don't think it's quite hit me yet that my life is no longer on a boat."

Michigan State Police tell ABC7 they continue to investigate, but no one is under arrest.

At the time of the attack, Gibbons said her attacker may have been driving a Jeep with a yellow smiley face tire cover.

Gibbons said she has faith in the state police. For now, she is moving on. She plans to write a book about her experience.

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