Jenna Lambert

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Jenna Lambert is a Canadian open water swimmer with cerebral palsy who is the youngest member of the 24-hour club due to her 20.7-mile (33 km) solo marathon swim at the age of 14 across the east end of Lake Ontario in Canada from Baird Point (New York state) to Lake Ontario Park in Kingston (Ontario, Canada) on 27-28 August 2006 in 32 hours 18 minutes.

On July 18th – 19th, in 32 hours 18 minutes, Lambert became the first female with a physical disability to traverse the wave tossed waters of Lake Ontario and join the 24-Hour Club. The swim that was predicted to take 24 hours was extended when Jenna faced strong winds, and waves that pushed directly against her for the majority of the swim.

Taking on challenges wasn't new to Jenna Lambert. She was born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition which affects her ability to move about independently. Jenna took on this challenge, to prove to everyone watching, that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.

The purpose of Jenna's Kid 4 Kids Marathon was to raise money in support of the Kingston Family YMCA's Y Penguins, and the new pool, which was part of the YMCA expansion. Jenna wants to give something to her teammates whom she watches improve and excel every day. She could think of no better way than by helping the Y build a much-needed pool that her team could call home, as well as to purchase some new equipment needed by the Kingston Y Penguins.

Jenna was one of the inaugural members of the Kingston Y Penguins, a swim team for young people with physical disabilities and their able-bodied siblings. “The Kingston Family YMCA's Y Penguins are about building self-confidence. They are about showing young people that nothing is impossible – that, with hard work and determination, they can accomplish anything they set their mind on,” says Vicki Keith, Jenna's coach. “Jenna is a highly-motivated young lady with a huge heart. She sees the possibilities in herself and sees a way that she can make a positive difference in the lives of her teammates.”

Vicki clearly remembers Jenna when she first joined the Kingston Y Penguins. She recalls a10 year old with a huge smile running down the hall towards the pool aided by her walker for balance and support. It was the first Kingston Y Penguins swim practice and Jenna loved to swim.

When Jenna joined the Y Penguins in 2001, she used her walker to aid in her mobility. Since joining the swim team, Jenna's strength and coordination has improved so much that she now uses forearm crutches almost exclusively.

Right from the start, Jenna showed a strong desire to succeed, a willingness to try anything and a great talent in swimming.

At her first swim meet, just before she walked out onto the pool deck, Jenna was suddenly filled with dread. How could she walk out onto this pool deck in front of all of the able-bodied athletes and compete. The fear of not being able to keep up with the others, how her peers might look at her and what they might be thinking, stopped her in her tracks. She couldn't do it.

It took Jenna close to a year to gather the courage to compete at her first meet, but once she did, she was hooked. A year later, while standing in front of a group of adults, she explained to them that “being a part of the Y Penguins had helped her not disapprove of her disability so much.”

Jenna is a highly-talented competitive swimmer who represented Canada at Para-worlds in Rio De Janeiro and the Para-Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. She swam in the S6SB5SM6 classification. Her specialty was breast stroke. Although she saw huge success in competitive swimming, Jenna says “I feel the most joy when I can climb into a lake and find a comfortable pace and just swim. I feel like I can swim forever.”

Jenna smiled through most of her Lake Ontario crossing, appreciating the challenge and the support she was receiving from family, friends and her support crew. Even when she was at her lowest points and her arms could barely break the surface of the water, Jenna knew deep down in her heart that she would never give up. Through tears of frustration, as she struggled with exhaustion, sleep deprivation and constant winds pushing against her, Jenna looked up at her coach Vicki Keith and said “I am not going to give up. I am going to finish this.” She pushed on for hours, and when she finally approached shore, she once again looked up at her coach, smiled and swam the last strokes into shore using the butterfly stroke, just to prove that she had something left.

Hundreds of people lined the shore to welcome Jenna home. Jenna smiled and thanked them all for supporting her and greeted as many as possible individually before she was whisked off in a limo to a hotel for some much needed sleep.

Jenna thanks God for the opportunity to show everyone, able-bodied or disabled, that nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. The Kingston Y Penguins' slogan is “Penguins Can Fly”, and Jenna's achievement this summer has proved this to be true.

Jenna was 15 years old at the time of this swim, and lived in Harrowsmith, Ontario, with her parents, Ron and Christine, and her sister Natalie. Natalie is also a member of the Kingston Y Penguins, and has her own history as a marathon swimmer. Natalie also acted as Jenna's pacer during her Lake Ontario swim. When Jenna was tired and feeling a bit lonely, Natalie jumped in the water beside her sister and swam with her for a couple of hours.

Donations in support of Jenna's swim, amounted to $210,000. Today a whole new "flock" of Penguins train in the YMCA pool in Kingston because of Jenna's philanthropic swim.

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