About Vicki Keith
Vicki Keith C.M. O. Ont.
Vicki Keith was described as an unlikely athlete, not apt to succeed in any sport. In school she was last to be picked for teams. No matter how this made her feel, she refused to accept the negative comments made about her abilities.
Today, she is the most successful marathon swimmer in the history of the sport, holding an unprecedented sixteen world records. Constantly surpassing the records of other swimmers as well as previous records of her own, Vicki has become, to many, the face of marathon swimming both here in Canada and around the world. Her most regognised accomplishments include becoming the first person to swim across all five Great Lakes in 1988 and for being the only person to complete the 104 km double crossing of Lake Ontario.
How does an unlikely athlete become a world class athlete? There is no magic. Like the majority of people, Vicki is an ordinary person. What she has accomplished is extraordinary. Vicki understood early in life, that if you have a positive attitude and believe in yourself, you can follow your passion and be successful through sheer determination.
After her marathon swimming career, Vicki took on a new challenge – coaching competitive swimming to a team of athletes with physical disabilities. While coaching at Variety Village, 16 years ago, Vicki found that swimmers with physical disabilities were invited to participate in only 3 meets a year…all of them for disabled athletes only. She immediately started pushing the boundaries, by getting the team invited to able-bodied meets. Although there were some initial difficulties, the swimmers quickly became accepted and welcomed as equals at able-bodied meets. This pattern was continued by the Provincial and National bodies to the point that swimming is now the most integrated sport in Canada.
Vicki has coached 7 athletes with a disability to the National level in competitive swimming, and 3 athletes with a disability in marathon swimming. These athletes include Carlos Costa, a double leg amputee, who became the first athlete with a disability to swim across Lake Ontario, Ashley Cowan, a 15 year old quadruple amputee who swam across Lake Erie in 2001, and Terry-Lynn Langdon, a young woman with Cerebral Palsy who swam the 20 km crossing of Lake Erie in 2002. Now, Vicki is working with 15 year old Jenna Lambert, an athlete with Cerebral Palsy who is training to become the first female swimmer with a disability to swim across Lake Ontario.
In 2001 Vicki moved to the Kingston area, where she started a swim team for young people with physical disabilities at the Kingston Family YMCA. The Kingston Family Y adopted the team, known as the Kingston Y Penguins Aquatic Club, and they continue their dedication to children with special needs, by helping Vicki develop new programs.
Vicki’s dream has always been to make a difference in other peoples lives, so, in 2005, when the need for new opportunities for children with disabilites in Kingston, Ontario became apparent, Vicki came out of swimming retirement, and spent 63 hours and 40 minutes in Lake Ontario, completing 80.2 kilometres butterfly, setting 2 world records and raising over $200,000 for the Kingston Family YMCA This brought her lifetime fundraising total to over one million dollars.
Vicki has been appointed as a member of the Order of Canada, in recognition of her outstanding achievements and service. In 1996 she was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, and in 1998 she had her most famous arrival and departure point renamed after her. The headlands of the Leslie Street Spit in Toronto, are now called Vicki Keith Point.
Now residing on Amherst Island with her husband John, Vicki spends her quiet time going for walks and enjoying all the wonders of nature that live on the island. The local joke on the island, is that if you hear a loud whoop in early May, don’t panic, it’s probably just Vicki taking her first swim of the season off the shore of their waterfront home.
Born: February 26, 1961 Winnipeg, Manitoba
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