Skip to main content

Holladay Journal

Holladay Lions adaptive swim program gives people with disabilities the chance to succeed

Mar 29, 2022 09:24PM ● By Peri Kinder

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

Chays Jensen is kind of a big deal. As a competitive swimmer, he raced with the Hartvigsen School swim team at the Special Olympics, winning gold and silver medals. The 28-year-old trains with the adaptive swim club at Holladay Lions Recreation Center, a program his aunt Nikol Jensen said changed his life.

“The whole adaptive program has been a godsend to our family,” Jensen said. “Finding any adaptive program for people over 21 is practically impossible.”

The adaptive swim club, run through Salt Lake County, is for swimmers with disabilities, ages 15 and up. The Holladay Lions program is one of the only places offering swim team experiences for older people with disabilities.

Rebecca Barley, the adaptive aquatic manager at Holladay Lions, said the swim club is a chance for swimmers with physical, visual, developmental or intellectual disabilities to find a tribe and engage in something they enjoy. The monthly swim meets provides a structure where participants can be successful.

“The program is designed for swimmers who are more competitive and enjoy competing at our meets. They’re really good swimmers,” Barley said. “They’re fabulous. They’re so much fun. I’m passionate about teaching [swimming] skills to a population that doesn’t always get that. Salt Lake County is passionate about that, too.”

The adaptive swim program at Holladay Lions also includes swimming lessons for children ages 3-18, inclusion lessons where children with disabilities can be with their siblings or friends, and the Otters Swim Club for children and teens. Costs for lessons are as low as $10 for a four-week session.

“We try to keep costs as minimal as possible because we understand that cost can be a barrier to participating,” Barley said. “This is an opportunity to participate with their peers, sometimes it’s their siblings and sometimes it’s kids from school. We provide additional training and information to the instructor.”

Learning life-saving water skills is valuable. Barley said it’s a main focus of the program. She wants students to feel safe in the water and know what to do in case of an emergency. Swimming lessons gives kids these skills along with the bonus of having a fun time.

When Chays came to live with Jensen five years ago, she struggled to find programs her nephew could join. Chays has taken swimming lessons since he was 2 so the county’s adaptive program was the perfect fit. He loves winning ribbons at swim meets, and he’s made new friends.

“We found Holladay Lions and went to try out so he could be on the team. It’s been such a positive experience for him,” Jensen said. “It’s something that’s just for him. It’s such an important thing for our adults to have. It’s a safe place for kids to be. The coaches have been absolutely wonderful. It’s a very welcoming and safe place for kids.”