Athletes of Kingston: Vicki Keith

By Ian MacAlpine

For someone like marathon swimmer Vicki Keith Munro, who in 1988 swam across all the Great Lakes, was the first person in 1987 to do a 104 kilometre double crossing of Lake Ontario, the first person to swim across the English channel with the difficult butterfly stroke and still the world record holder for the longest butterfly swim of 80.2 kilometres the word “impossible” is not part of her vocabulary.

“I truly don’t believe that anything is impossible, said Keith Munro during a recent interview at the Kingston YMCA. “I think there’s a way to achieve everything and I think as soon as we put a restriction on ourselves that we’re not going to be able to achieve great things and I think it’s easier to get rid of that word completely and try to figure out ways we can do it. We may not do it the exact same way as we were originally inspired to achieve it but we will be successful if we believe it’s possible.”

Keith brings that attitude everyday she works at the YMCA pool with the Kingston Y Penguins, an enthusiastic group of swimmers with physical disabilities and able-bodied siblings that she’s been coaching for almost two decades.

As a marathon swimmer Keith had a never-quit attitude and tries to bring that thought process to her swimmers as well.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about what quitting means and we always talk about quitting but I don’t think people realize how easy it is to quit,” she said.

Marathon Swimmer Vicki Keith begins her 82-kilometre coastal swim early Monday morning from Point Petre, near Picton, to Kingston.

“The first time we say that’s good enough we’re quitting on ourselves, the first time we say that’s enough for the day, we’re quitting on ourselves.”

Many of her swimmers have won Canadian championships and competed on the world Paralympics stage so her attitude rubs off on her athletes as well.

Over the course of her swimming and coaching career she has won many awards and accolades such as being inducted into the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, has an honourary degree and was recently inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame with another Kingston athlete, hockey player Jayna Hefford.

Keith Munro was also honoured in December of 2009 by carrying the Olympic torch through downtown Kingston on its way to Vancouver.

“It’s pretty exciting to be selected to go into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame but it’s also inspiring to see the other athletes that I’m going in with,” she said.

Olympic torch bearer Vicki Keith runs through a crowd of over 2,000 people in Springer Market Square last night for the Kingston portion of the torch relay last night in Kingston.

She was impressed with the story of former Team Canada water polo player Waneek Horne-Miller who was a child during the Oka Crisis in 1990 and was injured during a melee and later suffered through the traumatic incident.

“The fierceness she had and this desire to always stand up for the underdog.”

Keith Munro said the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame just doesn’t honour athletes for what they can do during their sport but athletes who have given back to their community.

Keith Munro has done that too raising about $800,000 for Toronto’s Variety Village from her swims among other fundraising events she’s been involved in over the years.

Keith Munro, who still holds 16 world records in marathon swimming, was asked what’s more difficult; swimming across a large lake or coaching another athlete in a marathon swim?

“They’re both challenging for different reasons but I think you have the opportunity to lose control of the situation when you’re coaching somebody else. You have to guess what’s going on sometimes, you have to put yourself in someone’s shoes to try and figure out what’s going on sometimes and that being there and not having complete control is more challenging.”

She said the most important thing to teach a young person is independence.

“To believe in themselves and then be able to take ownership of what activity they’re doing and to move it along to the best of their ability and I think if we give them the ability to believe in themselves, give them  the independence to work by themselves we’re giving them an opportunity to achieve great levels,” she said.

Keith Munro was born in Winnipeg and has lived in Ottawa, Pointe Claire, Quebec and Kingston when she moved here with her family while in high school.

He favourite thing to do is Kingston is to walk around downtown with her husband John.

“We love to walk Princess Street and just window shop, we love to go to Fort Henry. and be part of some of the ceremonies there and love to go to the waterfront and just spend time down by the water.”

And Lake Ontario is a body of water Keith Munro is quite familiar with.