Police Chief Howell competes in swim


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ST. CROIX - It took St. Croix Police Chief Christopher Howell about two days after being shot in August to decide what his next athletic endeavor would be.

Howell was training for October's St. Croix Coral Reef Swim before he was shot in the left arm and back. He was ambushed while responding to an armed robbery at a crowded restaurant. Officer Elsworth Jones was shot twice in the face. Both men are recovering from their injuries.

A fifth straight appearance at the five-mile Coral Reef Swim was out of the picture, so Howell set a new goal: the 9th annual Dolphins Sea Swim. Howell, 43, finished the one-mile Frederiksted swim in 31 minutes, 47 seconds on Saturday. He was the 37th male finisher, but time was a moot point considering rehabilitation on his arm will last about another year.

"A good way to describe it, it is a process," Howell said. "It's just, I don't think it goes nearly as fast as anybody would want, but you just gotta stay with it and have faith in the people that are working on you and a lot of it's up to you too. … You can't lay down and pretend it's gonna get better on its own."

As Howell leaned over to catch his breath near the finish line at Rainbow Beach, supporters streamed by to congratulate him. Hans Lawaetz, the former president of the V.I. Olympic Committee, stopped twice and firmly embraced Howell's right arm while offering encouragement and appreciation. Lawaetz started the race about 30 years ago to raise money for the Dolphins Swim Team. The event made its comeback in 2005.

"I don't know him that well, but I know the name and we're all so proud of the work he's done in the police department," Lawaetz said, "and the fact that the injury was such a devastating happening here in St. Croix, we're all very concerned and just seeing him back is great."

Muscles and tendons were transferred to repair his arm and skin was taken from his left thigh to help reseal the arm.

When Howell's plan to compete in January was made known, doctors delivered a resounding "No."

"They were hesitant in the beginning," he said. "I wanted to get back in the pool even before everything had sealed up. … I think they viewed it as me kind of being impatient about it, which I guess I was. I really wanted to get back to myself, you know, it all just takes so much out of you."

Howell has daily rehabilitation and began swimming in December. He was able to run shortly before that, which allowed him to build his cardio for the swim.

"It was a very uphill battle just to get back, get the cardio back," Howell said. "I didn't start running. I started walking and even that in the beginning was a battle."

A return date to work is yet to be set, but Howell made it clear that he expects to be back in uniform.

"I certainly have the motivation," he said. "I love law enforcement, I love my job and, you know, like I said, it's a process and we're gonna have to see what happens in the coming months."

- Contact Tim Chapman at 714-9102 or tchapman@dailynews.vi.

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