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Woman assaulted on mission to row around Lake Michigan vows to continue

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A woman who said she was sexually assaulted while on a two-month row around Lake Michigan to raise cancer awareness says she remains frightened but plans to resume her trip Wednesday.

Jenn Gibbons is trying to become the first person to solo-row the entire 1,500-mile perimeter of Lake Michigan in an effort to show the role exercise plays in the fight against breast cancer. She set out on her two-month mission from Chicago on June 15, NBCChicago.com reported.

About five weeks into her journey, she said, she awoke in the early morning hours on Sunday to the sound of someone boarding the boat, which she had docked for the night near a lighthouse on a stretch of a remote shoreline of Lake Michigan. Gibbons told police she rushed to lock the cabin door, but the stranger forced his way inside and sexually assaulted her.


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“I was out in the middle of nowhere,” Gibbons told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was terrifying. And he told me he knew where to find me.”

Police believe Gibbons’ attacker traveled a significant distance to find her, they said in a statement, perhaps following her on the Internet as she documented her mission through her Facebook page and personal blog.

Gibbons said she punched the man in the chest and ran. She tried to lock herself in a wooden outhouse, but her attacker forced his way inside. She said she fought him off until he fled in a yellow Jeep Wrangler.

Gibbons said she ran to the boat, locked herself in the cabin and called 911, police said.

Michigan State Police

This sketch shows the suspect wanted in connection with the reported sexual assault of Jenn Gibbons on Sunday, July 22, 2012.

Police released a sketch of the man Tuesday and continued their investigation. The suspect is described as a white male in his 30s, approximately 5 feet 8 to 6 feet tall, with a fair amount of facial stubble hair, but not a full beard or mustache. The man has light eyes, an average to athletic build and shorter well-kept hair. He was wearing a grayish green T-shirt, jean shorts and tennis shoes.

“I know that I had a choice in telling people about the details of my attack, particularly that it was a sexual assault,” Gibbons posted in a note to her Facebook page. “To go through this at all, let alone publicly, is extremely difficult. I chose to talk about it in the hope that someone might be able to provide more information about the person who did this to me.”

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“Regarding the trip, one thing hasn’t changed: I’ve still got this,” Gibbons wrote. “But the trip plan will change in a few ways to ensure my safety. Most importantly, I will no longer be alone.”

Gibbons is a customer service agent for the deal-of-the-day website Groupon and the head coach for the Recovery on Water charity, a rowing team composed of breast cancer survivors.

Gibbons said she hoped her mission circumnavigating Lake Michigan would raise $150,000 for her charity. She has already raised $80,000, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

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