YMCA of Eastern Ontario

Building healthy communities

Y Penguins

The Y Penguins is a swim team for children with physical disabilities and their able-bodied siblings.

Through sport, these 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. Participants learn how to focus on their abilities while developing physical and emotional strength, independence, and confidence. Participants have the opportunity to meet friends, have fun, develop a healthy active lifestyle, all while building confidence and self esteem.


Group photo of the Y Penguins at the Big Chill event

“The only disability is a bad attitude.”
~ Jenna Lambert at age 14, after becoming the first female with a disability to swim across Lake Ontario

In 2001, a partnership between former marathon swimmer Vicki Keith and the former YMCA of Kingston (now YMCA of Eastern Ontario) resulted in the development of the Y Penguins swim team. Vicki knew there was a huge need 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. Vicki continues to maintain a mentorship role within the team with coach Nick Streicher. Nick is a past Y Penguin and national level competitor. Vicki and Nick share a transformational coaching style that emphasizes life-skills development through sport.

Since the inception of the Y Penguins, the participants have proven over and over again that nothing is impossible. When faced with a roadblock, 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. 

"Being a part of Y Penguins has allowed me to not disapprove of my disability so much."
~ Jenna Lambert, age 10

Today, the Y Penguins average 30 swimmers on the team. Since 2001, the Y Penguins have had more than 20 athletes qualify and compete at the national level, two set world records in marathon swimming, one compete at world championships in triathlon, four world class competitive swimmers, eight athletes qualify for Para Pan Am trials and two make the Para Pan Am team.

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 Y Penguins. The swim team’s focus is on keeping a positive attitude while focusing on ability.

The team offers a fun and exciting environment where young people can develop both physically and emotionally, while making new friends. It offers a place for them to learn how to set goals, develop self-discipline and a work ethic, while they build self-confidence. Athletes can choose to focus on individual self-improvement or athletic excellence.

For information, please contact Nick Streicher at nicholas.streicher@eo.ymca.ca


“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.” 
~ Chris Sergeant-Tsono – international award and title holder – age 13