Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp and How to Live Unlimited
This post was sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. All views and editorial are mine.
The first thing you notice when you arrive at an MDA Summer Camp is the serenity. Wood cabins nestle beside gorgeous, tall trees, a placid lake shimmers in the sunlight, and pretty birds and dragonflies flit about. The only word for it is “idyllic.”
The second thing you notice when you arrive at an MDA Summer Camp, specifically, when you arrive during breakfast, is the lack of serenity. Girl campers at one table clap their hands and sing a taunting song to another table, a counselor dressed in a toga he made out of his bed sheet does a wacky booty shaking dance, and a little boy in a Skylanders t-shirt laughs so hard at a joke that his face turns red. The only word for it is “boisterous.”
That was my experience when I visited a Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp in Illinois last week. We arrived early in the morning and walked through the quiet campgrounds, and as we entered the cafeteria, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a camp for kids with muscular dystrophy, after all, so would they be quietly sitting in wheelchairs? Reading in the corner? Should I have brought a book of inspirational poetry to share with them all? A lute? Well, short answer: No. As if. Because instead of poems and terrible lute music, these kids and counselors were way more interested in closing out their breakfast with a dance break so epic that I got tired just watching it. Whew.
This was just the first instance of many instances where I saw the 45 campers, ranging in age from 6-17, and their volunteer counselors enjoying Summer Camp just like all kids enjoy summer camp: loudly, somewhat messily, and with maximum joy. Their activities included songs, games, and boat rides. Horseback riding, swimming, and crafts. Fishing, dancing and relay races. And all of that with no parents, chores or homework for a week.
A week that one camper told me is “the best week of the year.”
The kids are kept super busy at the MDA camps, many getting to do things they never thought they could do. And they’re not embarrassed if they don’t do it well, either, because it’s all in the trying, not in the results. For example, during archery, some of the kids were able to hold a bow, but the camp also had modified ways of shooting an arrow for kids without the arm strength. When the “Hunger Games” begin, I want this dude on my side.
Some campers took their first ever canoe ride when I was there. The little boy pictured said he was scared, but “I’m still doing it anyways.”
And here’s another little boy I met who was very serious about catching a fish. He had braces on his legs, and was probably feeling tired, but he was still determined to stand there until he got a nibble.
The kids also love to swim, and here they are in the pool, each with a counselor. I don’t know what game they were playing while we watched them, but it involved a lot of loud singing and splashing, and the spraying of innocent bystanders with Super Soakers.
MDA works hard to ensure that these kids, kids who may have felt different from others their entire lives, don’t feel different at this camp. They feel like they fit in.
There is a 1:1 camper/counselor ratio at MDA Summer Camp, so each kid has the best possible care and attention. They are even checked on twice a night while they sleep, with some kids needing to be physically turned over because they’re not able to do it themselves. And bonus: their parents at home get a week to recharge and renew their energy, and their siblings get mom and dad all to themselves.
The counselors I spoke with were all wonderful and caring, with many of them being med students, or physical therapy professionals. One woman, a middle school teacher, has been volunteering as a counselor for over 20 years. Here she is with a 16-year-old camper who told me a joke that I told her was “the worst joke I’ve ever heard.” But with the kind of bonding that goes on, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to say good-bye at the end of the week. It was hard enough for me to say good-bye after a few hours.
Muscular dystrophy, and the many related muscle-debilitating diseases, is often genetic. There were more than a few sets of siblings at the camp we visited because the symptoms often don’t present until kids are four or five years old. And while there is currently no cure for MD, years of research and study funded by MDA has extended the life expectancy of those who have it. Good news, for sure. But it was still sobering to notice that most boys at the youngest camp table weren’t using wheelchairs, but most of the boys at the oldest boys camp table were.
There are nearly 75 MDA Summer Camps in the United States that provide approximately 3,800 kids with a week of fun each year. Per the MDA, these camps “…give kids with limited muscle strength and mobility a life-changing experience in an environment without barriers. It’s a week where they’re free to enjoy adventures like horseback riding, swimming and fishing, develop lifelong friendships and build self-confidence and independence that are critical to living longer and growing stronger.”
And here’s the best part: the camps are offered at no charge to families.
And here’s another best part: the camps only cost $2,000 per camper per week.
Considering everything that goes into these camps, $2,000 isn’t that much when you think about it. That’s probably what Kanye paid for his latest platinum toothpick. And while the camper funding comes from thousands of volunteers, generous individual donations and fundraisers, and corporate partners, there’s always more help needed. And this is where you come in. Because I know by now, you definitely want to come in, right?
Here are the (super easy and quick) ways to support MDA Summer Camps:
- Create your #LiveUnlimited image at mda.org/LiveUnlimited that shows how you’re defying limits, just like these kids are. For each image shared through July 31, a generous sponsor is donating $5 to MDA, up to $30,000, to support research, programs and services like MDA Summer Camp. (People can continue to share their images after July 31, however shares will no longer be matched with a donation after that date.)
- Support MDA families and programs like Summer Camp by buying a Live Unlimited bracelet from Endorphin Warrior .$6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to MDA to help kids like those I met at Summer Camp.
- Support MDA Summer Camp by making a donation at mda.org and/or learn how you can become a summer camp volunteer counselor. (Male counselors are especially needed.)
Easy, simple, and I can assure you that your contribution, no matter how small, will make a big difference in many family’s lives. Take a minute and hear some campers tell you that in their own words:
My thanks to the MDA for inviting me to visit the camp, and for allowing me to see the wonderful things they’re doing. On a personal note, it can sometimes feel like there aren’t enough people doing good things in the world. But when you’re lucky enough to meet those who are, it’s a privilege to share their story.Published July 20, 2016. Last updated June 27, 2018.