2019 Swim for Kids to support children with disabilities

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Rob Adams, CEO of the YMCA of Kingston, and Vicki Keith, renowned marathon swimmer and coach of the Y Penguins, stand at the shore of Lake Ontario Park where the 2019 Swim for Kids will take place on Saturday, Jul. 27, 2019. Photo by Michelle Allan.

In the peak of summer heat, there’s no better place to be than in the lake — and late-July the perfect time to have a swim that can make a difference in the lives of those right here in our community.

The third annual Swim for Kids event will take place at Lake Ontario Park on Saturday, Jul. 27, 2019. A partnership event between the YMCA of Eastern Ontario and Easter Seals Ontario, the swim is open to swimmers of all abilities ages 12 and up. There will be a 1.5 km and 3 km open water swim. Proceeds will support both the Easter Seals Ontario and the YMCA of Eastern Ontario Y Penguins Aquatic Club.

YMCA fund development manager Anita Mercier spoke of the “power of partnership” between the organizations. Mercier stated that both Easter Seals and the YMCA “served the same populations and families,” with Easter Seals providing the equipment and the YMCA providing the programming.

Easter Seals Ontario helps children and youth with physical disabilities achieve greater independence, accessibility, and integration by providing services and programs including scholarships, public education, summer camps, and financial assistance for mobility equipment.

As part of the YMCA of Kingston’s adaptive programming, the Kingston Y Penguins is a safe and supportive environment to participate in physical activity and be part of a team for children with physical disabilities and their able-bodied siblings. According to coach Vicki Keith, “because the Y is so focused on inclusion, we’ve been able to develop likely the largest team in Canada, possibly North America, for kids with physical disabilities.”

Keith said that many children with special needs face barriers in social settings, and swimming with the Penguins provides a unique and valuable opportunity for them to build friendships an inclusive environment of families who are understanding of disabilities.

“Fifty-three per cent of kids with a disability don’t have a friend. That number is probably closer to 80 per cent, because some kids perceive the kid that’s nice to them in school is their friend, but we know that having a friend is something way more than that,” said Keith. “And when these kids see a whole population of people show up at Lake Ontario Park, get in the water and swim for them, they start to realize that their lives matter.”

“With two weeks to go, we’re going to hit our goal of 100 swimmers,” said YMCA of Kingston CEO Rob Adams. Last year the event raised $40,000, and Adams is optimistic about reaching their 2019 goal of $50,000. The money will be used “to provide those opportunities of access is for siblings and individuals with disabilities,” Adams said.

According to Adams, although many people enjoy the local YMCA as a “community hub,” not everyone is aware of “the fact that we are a charity. We’re not for profit.”

“We don’t want there to be any barriers, whether it’s a physical limitation or financial limitation,” Adams said. “Our mandate is to be able to provide opportunities for people to reach their full potential.”

In the spirit of that inclusive mandate, ‘Swim Support’ is also offered for those who want to participate in Swim for Kids. The idea behind Swim Support is to help make swimming more accessible for those who want to swim, but for many reasons, such as disabilities, medical conditions, or even a fear of swimming alone, would not otherwise be able to participate. Swim Support offers an experienced swimmer to swim alongside those who would benefit from the support, providing reassurance and encouragement to allow participants to finish the race. For more information on Swim Support, click here.

Adams credited the YMCA with helping people “create a mentality of wanting to have a healthy lifestyle for life.”

“It’s not just a gym, just a camp, or childcare,” he said. “We’re developing our leaders of tomorrow.”

Swim for Kids will take place Saturday, Jul. 27, 2019 at Lake Ontario Park with the check-in and warm up swim kicking off the day from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m.

Participants of all abilities are welcomed, and can sign up individually, as a family, or as part of a team. There will be a 3km swim for swimmers 16+ and a 1.5km family swim for parents and kids 12-16. Swimmers will be celebrated at awards ceremonies and a post-swim breakfast is included. For event information, visit the Easter Seals event information webpage
Registration can be done online on the Swim For Kids webpage. The $45 registration fee will be waived if participants meet the fundraising minimum.

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