The 2015 YMCA National Championship meets will have a new twist: athletes with disabilities will be included among the thousands of athletes who come together for a celebration of sport, teamwork, and specifically inclusion.
Schroeder YMCA Co-Head Swim Coach Dave Anderson was the biggest proponent for the new inclusion standards, and has been since the mid-2000’s, when he coached a swimmer named Alex Dionne, who placed 4th at the Beijing Paralympic Games in the S7 400 free.
“The whole team got to go down to Ft. Lauderdale for the meet, and Alex didn’t get to make the trip. He was a great swimmer and a fabulous athlete and put in the work, but the meet didn’t account for athletes with disabilities,” Anderson said.
And so ever since, many times met with frustration, Anderson has been pushing for inclusion in a meet that is much more focused on team a sense of team than are the USA Swimming National Championship meets, where the individual reigns supreme.
Finally, this week, at the United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Jacksonville, Florida, he had a breakthrough. Anderson was asked to give a talk to the committee that organizes the meet, and the committee agreed that it was time for the YMCA to include those athletes with a disability.
The procedure for qualifying is yet to be approved, but Anderson says the key is that the athletes will have to meet all of the same eligibility requirements as other YMCA National Championship qualifiers, with the exception of the time standards. That means they must compete at YMCA meets, be on YMCA teams, and not have raced in college, among other things.
The standards that have been proposed so far are the same as those for the annual CanAm meet. According to Anderson, that creates a solid set of standards across all events and all classes. In their opinion, those CanAm standards are representative of athletes who have put in the time worthy of a YMCA National Championship qualification. There will not be separate awards, rather athletes will simply compete and be seeded wherever their time puts them in that event, and the focus is on including them as part of the event.
He admits that at first, there will only be a handful of swimmers eligible as YMCA swimmers who meet the time standards, but in Anderson’s mind, that doesn’t make this decision any less important.
This move will further solidify the YMCA’s Area of Focus of “nurturing the potential of every child and teen.”
The most recent Can-Am time standards can be seen here, beginning on page 8.