“Let ‘Em Crash”

Not Really Getting It

I’ve been blessed to work with many people in the Camp Abilities World — writing these blogs and participating in a variety of other projects. Along the way, I’ve spoken with many campers, counselors, coaches. I’ve interviewed people who inspired Lauren to start and continue this camp. Parents. Teachers. Directors. Volunteers.

They were impressive.

But stepping into Camp Abilities at Brockport for the 25th anniversary of the camp* was the true definition of WOW!

When I returned home and had time to reflect on my experience (there is no time for reflection at camp!), I couldn’t decide who or what was most memorable.

  • Lauren and others who have been there since the beginning?
  • The volunteers?
  • The specialists who believed everyone was capable of riding a bike or the coaches who urged their camper to try? 
  • The kids themselves?
  • Aunt Helen and Stan (Lauren’s father) who have been there since the beginning?
  • The sports the kids were learning? Their enthusiasm and the desire to improve?

 

  • I met Valerie who arrived from Switzerland to learn how to run her camp – which was to be held in less than 3 weeks.
  • I met Brian. Brian was finishing his degree program and would be stepping into a school as a TVI. But Camp Abilities was his first ever hands-on experience with children who are visually impaired.
  • I met Katrina, Lauren’s wife, who has stood with Lauren year after year, fixing minor annoyances so Lauren could focus on kids.
  • I met researchers who just wanted to learn so they could improve the lives of kids across the world.
  • I met George who flew in from Greece to be a coach year after year. 
  • I met Jake who was taking a position at the coveted Perkins School for the Blind. He had almost as much energy as Lauren (almost, but not quite).
  • I met Joe, Landon, and Silas who were all new to camp.

In the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to some of these people.

Believe You Can Achieve – Not Just Words

One of the Camp Abilities’ mottos is Believe You Can Achieve. Nice pithy motto. Rhymes. Has a nice cadence. But I assumed it was just that – a motto. 

What I learned, and am embarrassed to admit, was how wrong I had been. When I interviewed people prior to attending camp, I would be impressed but there would be a tiny voice in my head that would think, “But he isn’t really running on a cross-country team. Sure, he’s there and he’s on the course but, a true competitive athlete? No way.” 

“Raveena, the rock climber who has no vision – she can climb but not like a sighted person, right?”

“Camp Abilities is fun, but they don’t actually expect a kid who is visually impaired to get on a standup paddle board. I mean, really, someone sighted and skilled will be on the board so it’s more like training wheels. Right?”

NOPE. NADA. NO WAY. I WAS SO WRONG.

Not only were the kids to play and to experience a variety of sports, but the expectation was for the kids to be athletes – with their bodies, their minds and their spirits. Not to just be participants or bench warmers. They were not to be satisfied with just having a jersey. The kids were to be on the team, to earn the jersey.

Certainly not everyone at Camp Abilities has the desire to become the next goalball champion. But each camper knows they can if they want to. I know the vernacular is “visually impaired” and yes, there are a lot of unique obstacles without sight. But I’m not sure “impaired” is the best word. I had a kid tell me, “Sure I can’t see. But it’s a condition not an impairment.”

Seriously, these kids were achieving things I wouldn’t even attempt – not even in my youth. Imagine standing there, unable to see but knowing a hard BEEP ball was going to be hit at you with as much force as the competition could muster. Imagine walking across a diving board (remember, it’s only 18 inches wide) and jumping into the unknown.

After I was home (and had rested some), I went to my usual yoga class. I tried to do it with my eyes closed. Thankfully I was beside the wall. Otherwise, I would have been on my butt several times. Try it. Close your eyes, do a tree pose.

Not Just On the Fields or In the Pool

Independence was required. Get your own food. Clean up after yourself. Use your cane. Don’t put your cane on the table. No one – absolutely no one – babied these kids. Well, no one but me.

I was walking with Gannon and his guide dog, Murdock. As we neared a set of steps, I took Gannon’s arm (without permission!) and moved him to the right. After all, he might fall down the stairs. Thankfully Gannon was patient with me. He told me it was not necessary to help him. He was skilled with his cane and even if he wasn’t he’d learn more if I “let him crash”. He reminded me that taking him by the arm – touching him – was to be done only with permission. “After all,” he said, “would you want a stranger taking you by the arm and steering you?” 

On the first training day, we were reminded to announce ourselves when entering or leaving group. I was to state my name – “This is June speaking.” If there was something happening in the group – say someone was making a funny face – I was to explain so everyone could be in the moment. That all made sense. But I forgot.

More than once a camper had to ask, “Who’s speaking?” or “What’s so funny?” or worse still, I’d walk away and then realize the camper was still talking to me (well, talking to where I had been). 

Kids were to be reminded that canes are not allowed on the tables. But I was never to move a cane. Makes sense but more than once, I caught myself taking a cane off the table and stuffing it under a chair or moving a cane out of my way.

Lots of etiquette I’d never understood without camp and without the patience of wonderful campers and staff. I likely learned more than they did. 

I asked several kids what was the scariest of all the sports. I assumed it would be either a ball sport or the water sports on the river. Nope. It was the tandem bike. 

But What Impressed Me Most

I met three Paralympians and watched them play goalball. Talent and hard work. I watched several kids start the week with their faces pointed to the ground only to end the week laughing and running and teasing their teammates. Willingness and desire. I watched Lauren, who never slept, maintain her energy and enthusiasm. Dedication and belief.

But then there was Silas. Silas is 12 and had never been to camp. I was supposed to sit down with him one evening and chat about his experience. When I finally found him, he was all smiles – those big Christmas morning-type smiles. Silas had completed the high ropes course which included jumping off a telephone pole.

“I was scared out of my mind,” he tells me, jumping up and down. “But I did it and it was thrilling.” His adrenaline was so high we never got to chat. But I didn’t need to talk to him to know his experience – it was written on his face and in his twinkling eyes. Silas is just one of many stories.

My Biggest Take Away

In Brockport, surrounded by 40 kids, I was reminded we are ALL unique, with special gifts and extraordinary talents and definite challenges. With a willingness to try, hard work, a good attitude and supportive people WE ARE ALL CAPABLE of anything. I’ve never ridden a bike and so next year, I’m going to get on a tandem bike and I’m going to play goalball. I don’t think, though, Silas can talk me into jumping off a telephone pole.

It’s not a pithy phrase. It’s a truism. When we believe, we can achieve.

*2022 is Camp Abilities Brockport’s 27th year. But due to COVID, the last 2 years were virtual. This, then, was the 25th Anniversary of the on-campus camp.

 

~Submitted by June Converse

106 Views

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please sign up for email notifications

  • Contact Us