The camp is unique because it's a Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) camp in Illinois; all 45 campers have some form of muscular dystrophy or a related disease that takes away physical strength and mobility. And yet, they seemed like any kids and teens at any camp, enjoying themselves and having a whole lot of fun. Some used wheelchairs, some walked or talked a little slowly, some required use of a ventilator—but they were kids being kids, living it up.
That's exactly the point of Live Unlimited, a six-week campaign recently launched by MDA that encourages us all to get past the "cant's," inspired by MDA families who do that every single day. It's what we strive for as parents of kids with special needs. Despite the physical and societal challenges diseases like muscular dystrophy and disorders like cerebral palsy (which Max has) can create, our kids push past their limits and show the world that their disorders do not define them.
MDA exists to give individuals and their families strength and independence, with funding going toward research, care, services and support. What better way to empower kids than through camp?
The non-profit runs close to 75 week-long camps around the country for kids ages 6 to 17.
This summer alone it is hosting nearly 4,000 campers, with the goal of giving kids with limited muscle strength and mobility an environment without barriers. Besides enjoying a wide variety of activities, kids make friends and build self-confidence and independence. It costs MDA about $2000 to host each camper, but thanks to generous donations, families pay nothing (they can apply through their local MDA office).
I visited the camp on a blogger trip sponsored by MDA and spearheaded by the awesome and indefatigable Christine Koh of Boston Mamas. I got to hang out with a group of super-cute kids ages 6 to 10, one of whom took great delight in shooting his whirly toy at me. Ya know, like any six-year-old.
|From left: Vera Sweeney, Wendi Aarons (back), Audrey McLelland (front), Jessica Ashley, Christine Koh and me. Also on our trip: Jen Reeves.|
|The counselors—all volunteers—include occupational therapists, medical students and students going for a degree in child development. There's also a professional nursing staff on hand.|
|At mealtimes, both counselors and kids fill out "Yes notes" for a job well done.|
At camp, kids enjoy freedom they don't usually experience at home. As I know from raising a child with special needs, real life is filled with therapy, treatments and medical appointments. There may be scheduled activities at camp, but everything proceeds at a leisurely pace and the focus is on f-u-n. Meanwhile, parents also get a break. Some children with MD need to be turned over every two hours, so their muscles don't stiffen up overnight. At camp, counselors do the job.
|The nursing staff doles out meds at mealtime|
|Targets unlimited: First he tried the adaptive archery bow. Then he tried the regular bow. Last, he tried a BB gun.|
|Water games unlimited: The entire point seemed to be, get the counselors as wet as possible.|
|Hopscotch unlimited—by foot or by wheelchair|
| As we finished lunch, an Emergency Dance Party happened|
At the start of the day, I'd been talking with a camp staffer about muscular dystrophy. She told me that the average life span of a person with Duchenne muscular dystrophy is 30 years old, although there are cases of men living into their 40s and 50s. We were in the dining hall when she said that, and as I looked around at the campers' happy faces, I choked up.
As the day went on, though, I was continuously reminded what I've learned from raising Max: Kids live and love the life they've got. They don't know any differently.
It's our jobs as parents, family, loved ones and Adults Who Care to help them achieve the most boundless existence possible.
Ways to support these kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association
Wear your spirit.
Max and I each received one of these leather Live Unlimited bracelets, from Endorphin Warrior. For every $22 bracelet sold, $6 goes directly to MDA to help kids like the ones I hung out with at camp.
Create a #LiveUnlimited image, rack up donations to MDA
Go to MDA #LiveUnlimited to create a #LiveUnlimited image; you can either upload a photo or just choose a background image (it takes about 10 seconds) that shows how you live unlimited. Until July 31, for every image created, sponsors will donate $5 to help kids and adults with muscular dystrophy, up to $30,000.
I went with Max's most recent #LiveUnlimited accomplishment: tap dance lessons.
Our trip was hosted by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.