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YMCA Participation


"See the possibilities, not the impossibilities
See the challenges, not the obstacles
See the abilities, not the disabilities"
Vicki Keith C.M., O. Ont.
Founder of the Y Knot Abilities Programs

Y Knot Abilities Program

Picture the smile on the face of a child who is asked to join a team, when up to this point in life, his physical disability has left him sitting on the sidelines of every playing field he has ever been on.

The Y Knot Abilities Programs were created to address situations like this, and to provide a safe, fun environment where children can play, learn and explore the joys of a healthy active lifestyle. Able-bodied children have hundreds of sporting opportunities in our community, and Special Olympics programs for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities are thriving. The Y Knot Abilities Programs answer a similar need for children with physical disabilities. These children seem to have few or no opportunities where they can go to learn about and explore their abilities.

The Y Knot Abilities Programs were founded by world renowned marathon swimmer Vicki Keith, and named after the Y Knot Marathon, an 80 km marathon swim event across Lake Erie and Lake Ontario completed by her husband John Munro.

Vicki has used her 30 + years of experience working with young people with disabilities to develop the theories that the Y knot Abilities Programs are based upon. The concept is that through sport,

The Y Knot Abilities programs are designed to allow children with physical disabilities find pride and success through achievement. Participants have the opportunity to meet friends, have fun, develop a healthy active lifestyle, all while building confidence and self esteem. It provides a place where young people can 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. Often, families with able-bodied children take these types of opportunities for granted, while families with children with disabilities find inadvertent road blocks and restrictions. The Y Knot Abilities Programs provide a place where brothers and sisters, able-bodied and disabled can all play together.

At age 12, Y Knot Abilities participant, Jenna Lambert, explained that the Y Knot Abilities Programs had given her "a chance to build up much courage, which I had hidden inside for such a long period of time." She explains that participating in sport has allowed her to "not disapprove of my disability so much." 3 years later after becoming the first female with a physical disability to swim across Lake Ontario, she amended her views by stating that "the only disability is a bad attitude".

As 13 year old Y Knot Abilities participant Chris said, "Before I joined the Y Knot Abilities Programs, 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 Knot Abilities Programs give me a place where I belong. I now know I can do anything I set my mind on."

The original program created under the Y Knot Abilities Program was the Kingston Y Penguins Aquatic Club. Their slogan is Penguins Can Fly. Experts will tell you that penguins can't fly. If you put limitations on the penguin by defining flying by one definition only, then you could be right, but Vicki Keith does not believe in putting limitations on abilities. Penguins fly through the water – they are very graceful and beautiful to watch. The swimmers on the Kingston Y Penguins also fly through the water. Every day, they push beyond limits, and prove that there are no limitations – nothing is impossible!

Since the inception of the Y Knot Abilities Programs at the Kingston Family YMCA in 2001, the young people participating have proven over and over again that nothing is impossible. When faced with a road block, or hurdle, our participants now know that they can overcome it. Where some people might see something as impossible, our participants are learning to see the possibilities. They are learning to strive and set goals. They are exploring their own limits, pushing beyond past expectations and taking on new challenges.

The Y Knot Abilities Program reach to the very core of what the YMCA is all about. They are about access and inclusiveness – making a difference for youth with physical disabilities, their siblings, their parents and the community as a result. What better place than at your local YMCA, could there be for such an impact program?