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Challenging others to 'Swim all the Wai'

Self-advocate Wai Hung Ma pushes himself for shelter
By Mike Youds
August 4, 2016 12:40 P.M.
Wai Hung Ma in training for the main event on Friday, Aug. 19. (Graham Specht)

Leave it to the irrepressible Wai Hung Ma to come up with a fundraiser that is not just impressive but deeply inspiring.

For those who haven’t been following his Facebook page, the 53-year-old self-advocate, author and motivational speaker has been chalking up the laps at the Y pool for the past year.

But his posts recording increased endurance in the pool — 27 laps, 28 laps, 30 laps, 31 laps, 32 laps — tell only a small part of the story.

“I swim with one good arm, but I can hardy use my other arm or both of my legs at all,” he noted in a news release. He was born with cerebral palsy but has never allowed his condition to hold him back from living life to the fullest. 

In 1994, he pushed his body to the limit, riding in the saddle for five or six hours a day to build the physical stamina to ride with the Kamloops Cattle Drive.

He leads by example, and he’s doing it again.

“This summer I am throwing down a challenge for the people of Kamloops!” 

It’s called Swim All the Wai, a campaign in support of the Y women’s emergency shelter.

“I have first challenged myself to swim 2 km on Aug.19, and I have been training for this. Why? I want to tap into the local spirit of participation in community and sporting events. I want to inspire people to challenge themselves to set and reach goals this summer. Furthermore, I would like you to challenge your friends to do the same on Facebook.” 

Michelle Walker, responsible for violence against women intervention and support services at the Y, said it was Wai Hung Ma who approached them with his idea.

“This was Wai’s piece,” she said. “He’s been working on a way to inspire people. He came to us and said, ‘I want to swim 40 laps and raise money for the women’s shelter.’ We went, ‘OK.’ ”

Once they learned the details of his plan, they understood the wisdom behind it.

“He really thinks this will work for the women’s shelter because women are often facing so many barriers when they experience violence, when they’re seeking safety,” Walker said. “It is such a great fit.”

He’s given the fundraiser a special twist in that people can donate no more than $5.

“If you would like to donate more, instead please send the challenge to more people to participate, give their $5, and Swim All The Wai with me on Aug.19.”

“I love that part,” Walker said, noting that the donation limit makes the fundraiser more accessible. “It’s levelling the playing field, reducing barriers, making change in our world.”

Donations are starting to come in ahead of the date.

Wai intends to write a book about this journey, his second book after publishing Breaking Limitations three years ago. Proceeds from the book will go to the Y shelter, of course. And he wants to make Swim All the Wai an inter-city challenge to boost shelter programs elsewhere.

Walker said the shelter receives core funding from B.C. Housing but relies on fundraising to offer support programs. Without donated funds, people would face greater risks.

“It means having less people in the shelter, more people turned away and, potentially, more people at risk of serious harm.”

Anyone interested in donating time, energy and experience in support of the Y emergency shelter is invited to contact Walker or Jacquie Brand at 250-374-6162, or via email at or mwalker@kamloopsy.or. Visit their website at


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