Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Marathon Swimmer Embodiment Of Strong Mind, Body, Spirit

Posted By Lynn Rees Lambert, Staff Writer

Six young people who have been nominated in the Ontario Junior Citizen Awards program will be profiled in upcoming issues. We begin with marathon swimmer Natalie Lambert.

She made headlines across Canada as the youngest person to swim across Lake Ontario.

But only those with a child with a disability can know what the 14-year-old Harrowsmith girl's record-breaking swim truly means.

Toni Matheson knows.

"Because of Natalie, my son still has a program that he can take part in where he feels he belongs, where he can act like himself and not hide the fact that he has cerebral palsy," says Matheson.

Natalie's swim raised money to keep the YMCA's Y Knot Abilities Penguins Swim Club going, a club for able-bodied and disabled swimmers that is coached by another record-breaking marathoner - Vicki Keith.

Keith nominated the youngest daughter of Ron and Christine Lambert for a Junior Citizen of the Year Award. Last year, Natalie's sister Jenna won the provincial honour in recognition of her amazing feat: the first disabled swimmer to make it across the big lake.

Keith describes Natalie as a quiet girl with a wacky sense of humour. She is almost always happy and smiling.

"Natalie has happily grown up in the shadow of her sister Jenna, who shines so brightly that people notice her immediately. Natalie comes into a room quietly and shyly. She is the quiet shadow working behind the scenes, helping wherever she can and supporting her sister and everyone else. This summer, Natalie stepped out of the shadow."

With reporters and photographers following her every stroke, Keith says Natalie "shared her thoughts and dreams with the media, faced a huge challenge publicly and handled herself with the same quiet grace that we have come to know and love about her."

The Grade 9 student at Sydenham High School has been swimming competitively for six years. She's also active in her church's drama and children's ministries as well as helping with the Easter Seal Society and the YMCA Y Knot Abilities Program. She plays violin, viola, trumpet and French horn and is a member of the high school band.

For someone with a full schedule, it seems incredible that she found time to join Army Cadets last fall.

But John Munro isn't surprised.

A member of the YMCA Board of Directors and also a swim coach, Munro says Natalie is a great role model for young and old alike.

"What she has accomplished in her young life so far is astounding."

Few people her age, he says, would take on a challenge of swimming across Lake Ontario, one of the most difficult marathon swims in the world.

"But greater than this amazing, gruelling physical feat was her motivation for undertaking it," wrote Munro in his nomination letter. "Natalie set out to raise awareness and funds for the Kingston Family YMCA's Y Knot Abilities Program."

The Swim the Difference Marathon raised in excess of $40,000.

"Her spirit of giving and selflessness is a tribute to the fine young person that she is."

But don't think the swim was a piece of cake.

She did two swims, in reality. In first attempt she hit 8-10-foot waves and after 20 hours - just six miles from completion - she was pulled from the water.

Two weeks later, she jumped in the lake again, this time setting out from Sackett's Harbour, N.Y. This time, the weather co-operated but the temperatures were colder than the first attempt. After 23 and one-half hours, she touched down at Confederation Park in Kingston, welcomed by hundreds of well-wishers and a wall of media.

The marathon wasn't so much about her, she said at the time, it was about the Y Knot program and getting a new pool built at the Y.

She is, said Munro, the embodiment of the YMCA mission to build strong minds, strong bodies and strong spirits.

Last fall, at the groundbreaking for the new pool at the YMCA, Mayor Harvey Rosen presented Natalie with the key to the city. Article ID# 890993

Reproduced from

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