It takes a certain kind of friend to reach out a hand when you are in need.
It takes a completely different kind of friend to swim the English Channel for you.
But for Tori DeLollo, Trista Felty, and Kiersten Rosenberg, tackling such a feat to help Lauren Schulman was natural.
"Lauren was everybody's friend," DeLollo said.
Next week, the three women plan to swim 21 miles across the English Channel - from Dover, England, to Calais, France - to raise money and awareness for multiple sclerosis, the disabling neurological disease that was diagnosed in Schulman in August 2007.
"I'm still in disbelief that they're going to do this," Schulman said. "It's just a reminder of how awesome my friends are."
DeLollo, Felty, Rosenberg, and Schulman met on the Villanova University swim team in 2002. The four soon became inseparable.
"They were the poster children of Villanova swimming," coach Rick Simpson said, adding that they excelled in the pool and in the classroom.
Felty, Rosenberg, and Schulman graduated in 2006, a year after DeLollo. Schulman and Felty backpacked through Europe together that summer, and after Schulman returned to New York for work, the other three moved into a house in Manayunk.
DeLollo's interest in a channel swim was piqued when she attended a speech by paraplegic author James McGowan, who spoke of his many physical endeavors - including an attempt to swim the English Channel.
She tossed out the idea to the others, but no serious plans were made until Schulman's diagnosis.
"As soon as we heard, the idea came around again," Rosenberg said. The women thought they could swim the channel to raise money and awareness for the National MS Society.
They shared the plan with Schulman one night after a Villanova basketball game.
"I was speechless," she said. "This is such an amazing undertaking."
Schulman works at a financial consulting firm in New York. Before her diagnosis, she worked long hours and traveled frequently. She started to have balance and vision problems, and became frequently fatigued. She was hospitalized and treated with steroids.
After her diagnosis, her first round of treatment caused liver damage and flare-ups, putting her back on steroids. But a year ago, she began a new treatment, which has allowed her to work eight to 10 hours a day, go to the gym, and socialize.
Though MS prevents her from joining the relay, Schulman will ride in the boat that crosses the channel with the swimmers.
To make the swim official, the women joined the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation. A pilot for the boat was booked a year in advance. Each of the three passed a physical examination and a two-hour qualifying swim.
DeLollo works at the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University's Health Sciences Campus. Felty is starting her last year of dental school. Rosenberg is a registered nurse at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Finding time to swim and cross-train was difficult. They ended up practicing early in the morning and late at night.
The women have raised more than $11,000, all through small donations from family and friends. Of that, $4,000 went to airfare and federation fees. The rest will be donated to the New York City Chapter of the National MS Society, an organization with which Schulman has become heavily involved.
Because MS compromises mobility, the women's willingness to take on such a physical feat is very symbolic, chapter president Ruth Brenner said. "It's quite a gesture," she said.
The swim is tough. Each woman will swim an hour at a time during the relay while the other two wait on the boat. The swim should take 10 to 15 hours. The swimmer cannot have any physical contact with another person while in the water, and must wear preapproved gear.
There is also a fear of the unknown in this trip. The women are scheduled to swim Monday, but weather and water conditions could have them starting any day next week - at any time of day or night.
Depending on the current, the three might swim more than the estimated 21 miles. The water will be about 60 degrees. They have been collecting warm clothing to wear between swims.
These three aren't backing out, though. Schulman continues to motivate the swimmers toward the channel.
"She was an awesome inspiration to keep working hard," Felty said.
"They're a very strong group of girls," said Rosenberg's mother, Theresa. "I'm just so proud of them."
Contact staff writer Liz Wagner
at 610-313-8110 or email@example.com.