KINGSTON, Ont. – Vicki Keith has coached swimming for people with a disability for nearly 18 years at the Y Penguins Aquatic Club. What she noticed with the Parasport Jumpstart Fund was an increase in the number of young kids joining the club.
‘’It’s amazing to see young people wanting to participate in sport,’’ said Keith, the founder and coordinator of the Y Abilities Program. ‘’One of the things Jumpstart was able to do was to allow us to get younger participants in the program. So the last few months we were able to bring kids who were six, seven, eight years old.’’
Keith says that through Jumpstart the club provided access, excellence and coaching experience to 23 youths (12 boys and 11 girls aged six and over). Participants had a wide range of health challenges including cerebral palsy, Ehlers Danlos, spina bifida, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.
She says it is recommended that kids with disabilities get involved in sport at a young age.
‘’What is especially important for youngsters with a disability is the opportunity to learn about their bodies and how their bodies move at a very young age,’’ she said. ‘’That gives them a much better opportunity for the future.’’
Now one of the largest swim clubs for kids with a disability in Canada, Keith says the Y Penguins benefit from being in a smaller community.
‘’The pool tends to feel safe for the kids so it is a scarier experience for the parent to bring their child into the sport,’’ Keith said. ‘’But when they see the competency of our staff and volunteers they become confident very quickly.
‘’We are also a university town so we have students in physiotherapy and occupational therapy courses that come to volunteer with our program and that makes a big impact as well.’’
Not to mention the presence of Keith, regarded as one of the most successful marathon swimmers in the history of the sport. She has also raised over $1 million for programs for kids with disabilities.
‘’Being a Penguin has helped with my confidence, my self-determination and I have made new friends,’’ said Para swimmer Sydney Gillam. ‘’I believe I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to thanks to the Penguin team.’’
Keith believes there’s a very high chance these kids will continue to swim and participate in sport.
‘’That’s the ultimate goal of our program,’’ she said. ‘’But with eight kids now at the national level from our club, the kids here can dream bigger and the parents can start to see the possibilities.’’
The parents agree.
‘’I am thrilled with the opportunity my son had to participate in a competitive sport through this inclusive group,” said parent Lori Williams.
‘’He gained in so many ways: friendship, self advocacy, regular life experience, and learning the power of teamwork.’’