The Kingston Y Penguins is a swim team for children with physical disabilities and their able-bodied siblings. Through sport, young people explore their abilities and find within themselves the confidence to pursue their goals and the capacity to develop the skills that will help them see the many possibilities for their future.
The team offers a fun and exciting environment where young people can develop both physically and emotionally, while making new friends. Participants learn how to focus on their abilities while experiencing the opportunity to meet new friends, have fun, develop a healthy active lifestyle, learn independence, all while building confidence and self esteem.
In 2001, a partnership between former marathon swimmer Vicki Keith and the YMCA of Kingston resulted in the development of Y Penguins Swimming. Vicki knew that there was a huge need in our communities for sport and physical activities for young people with physical disabilities, and having grown up at the YMCA, she felt strongly that this was the ideal place for such a project.
Since the inception of Y Penguins Swimming, the participants have proven over and over again that nothing is impossible. When faced with a road block, or hurdle, they know that they can overcome it. They learn to strive and set goals. They explore their own limits, push beyond past expectations and take on new challenges.
When Y Penguins participant Chris Sergeant-Tsonos was 13 years old, he said, “Before I joined the Y Penguins, I couldn’t admit that I had a disability. Today, I am proud to say I have a disability. I have learned that I am unique; my disabilities don’t have to direct my life. The Y Penguins give me a place where I belong. I now know I can do anything I set my mind on.” Today Chris competes on the world stage and has won many awards and titles.
When Jenna Lambert was 10, she said, “Being a part of Y Penguins has allowed me to not disapprove of my disability so much.” 4 years later, after becoming the first female with a disability to swim across Lake Ontario Jenna stated to the media, “The only disability is a bad attitude.”
Today, the Y Penguins averages 30 – 40 swimmers annually. Since 2001 the Y Penguins have had over 20 athletes qualify and compete at the National level, 7 set Canadian records in competitive swimming, 2 set world records in open water swimming, 1 medaled at the World championships in triathlon, 4 World Class Competitive Swimmers (2 athletes won 4 medals) and 1 Paralympian.
Further, the Kingston Y Penguins are the largest swim team in the country for swimmers with a physical disability.
Although the Y Penguins have seen some outstanding performances at the elite level, this is not the primary focus on the team. No one “sits on the bench” on the Kingston Y Penguins. The swim team’s focus is on keeping a positive attitude while focusing on ability.