Mount Royal Recreation makes a splash with H2Able

Starting in winter 2015, the shallow end of Mount Royal Recreation's pool will be filled with smiles on Saturday mornings.


More than simply a life skill, learning to swim is a fun developmental activity most kids relish. However, finding lessons adapted for children with disabilities can be tough.

The H2Able program is an initiative directed by Jamie Tolan, aquatic centre team lead, Mount Royal University Recreation, that is a specialized extension of the Children's Adapted Physical Activity Program (CAPA) currently offered to children with disabilities.

The CAPA Program was originally organized in 2010 by David Legg, PhD, professor in the Bachelor of Health and Physical Education, and modelled after the Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience Program (SMILE) run by Sarah MacEachern at Acadia University.

"Through CAPA, children with varying disabilities are paired one-on-one with students from my Adapted Physical Activity (HPED 3320) course for an hour of recreation in the gym and another in the pool," says Legg. "When we started the program we asked parents what they wanted their children to get out of the program, and what we learned is, more than anything, they really just wanted their children to make friends and have some fun."

Without any shortage of helping hands from dedicated lifeguards, students and staff at bay, CAPA strives to normalize physical disabilities within the community and facilitate social inclusion for kids within each session.

"There is no proper advertisement in place for this program, it's all worth-of-mouth promotion by the CAPA families and we don't do it to make money, just to 'break even' and continue to be able to offer the program. We hope H2Able experiences the same success," says Legg. "The spots available for the last CAPA session were filled in 8 hours, so I'm happy that there's another program we can offer here at the University.

"It's really something to be proud of."

Tolan took note of the positive impact the swimming portion of the CAPA Program was having on the children and recognized the incredible demand for adapted swimming lessons.

"I wanted to create a regular swimming class environment that was at the same time properly adapted to meet the needs of these kids," says Tolan. "It's all about normalizing their conditions and getting them integrated with swimming in a way that sees no limitations."

The H2Able program, officially launched on Saturday, Jan. 10, received the support and council of the Children's Development Center, which has helped to approve safety and special-needs guidelines and demands, and advice staff training procedures.

"Few pools in the city have similar programs, but H2Able is unique in that it provides specialized adapted swimming lessons that promote physical literacy for children with disabilities," says Tolan.

H2Able builds on CAPA in that the time the children spend in the water is focused on recreational and socialization purposes, rather than actual structured and established swimming lessons.

A muse in the creation of H2Able, Arnold Anderson, an inspiring four-year CAPA student, has proved that no pool of challenges is too big for him to tread through.

"Physical activity is especially important for kids with disabilities, be it physical or cognitive," says Arnold's mother, Shirley Anderson. "For my son, who suffers from autism, physical activity allows him to process life a lot better and the CAPA program went beyond meeting this need when no other program could.

"Arnold developed a sense of purpose through swimming. He is swimming laps now and he is very confident in the deep end where he likes to spend most of his time with no flotation device . His instructors believe he is ready to swim independently in a public setting."

"My goal for this program is to be able to get kids swimming to the 25 metre mark (a requirement for the Special Olympics), so that they can be ready to compete as any other athlete would," adds Tolan.

Jan. 26, 2015 - Laura Camelo