Here I stand in the middle of absolute chaos. Utter mayhem is all around me. Kids are running around me screaming, adults are shouting, everyone seems to be going every direction at once. I can barely see; my eyes are burning. I am being doused with water that is so cold I can hardly imagine why it’s not frozen. It’s spraying downward and sideways, trying to knock me over. People are falling down, helping each other up, straining to see through the swirling shower. It feels like we are a bee hive inside a tornado. I am cocooned in layers of sticky, smelly, soggy goo. The stuff is all over my clothes and body, and it’s covering my face. Some of it inevitably leaks through my lips. It tastes salty, and sweet, and sour at the same time, like the strangest combination of flavors that a person should never taste. I pinch my eyes and mouth shut, as I turn my head to the sky and feel the icy downpour…and I am elated.
Slowly the molasses works its way out of my eyelashes and the biting pain starts to dissipate. The oatmeal drains out of my ears and nostrils. Ketchup and mustard strain from my clumped hair. The paint that covered my arms is peeling off. The full-body coating of chocolate sauce, caramel, corn syrup, pickle relish, and baked beans gives way to the icy water as it all flushes downward onto the ground that now looks more like a chemical spill than an athletic field. Finally the water stops and an earth-shattering cheer emits from the 200 people that surround me. Suddenly I realize that I have been screaming too, as my voice rasps in delightful pain. Hugs and high-fives, cartwheels and slides through the slippery turf slowly give way to a gathering of bodies, cramming into a great glob of sheer glee. It’s the biggest group hug I’ve ever experienced.
I am at a magical place called Camp Oasis, and this celebration is part of what we call Silly Olympics. It’s a series of activities that could be loosely described as competitions, but are really just excuses for camp kids and counselors to smear each other with crazy amounts of icky stuff. Then the fire truck rolls up and hoses everybody down. This outrageously fun (and ridiculously messy) event is the culmination of a week filled with sports, crafts, horseback riding, fishing, boating, swimming, skits, music, team building, and all sorts of fun and games.
Camp Oasis is a week-long experience for kids with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. It is held in various locations across the country at camps equipped with proper medical facilities, staff, and other amenities that make it possible to accommodate kids with specialized medical needs. Some of these are the “Hole in the Wall Gang Camps” founded by the late Paul Newman. All of them offer an incredible opportunity for kids who otherwise might not be able to partake in the summer camp experience.
I spent a week as a volunteer counselor last summer in a cabin with twelve high school boys and watched them become young men in a matter of days. It’s an amazing growth experience to watch and participate in. These kids often feel like misfits at home—but at Camp Oasis they’re just like everybody else. There’s no explaining to do about medical problems, no apologizing for running to the bathroom, no spectacle around special dietary needs, medication routines, or ostomy supplies—because it’s all routine for everyone there. Kids come to camp apprehensive and shy, and they go home beaming and full of confidence. For many campers this is the first time they’ve spent away from their family since getting sick—or maybe ever. And for all it’s a chance to make friends and bond with peers who share their challenges.
As one of the many patient support activities administered by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, Camp Oasis is provided free of charge. Campers cover the age range from second grade through high school. It is a life-changing opportunity for many of these young people. And for you adults, it’s a great way to volunteer your time and energy as well—many locations have opportunities for counselors and activity leaders. The application window is typically January through March. For more information and other resources for kids and teens living with IBD, visit www.ccfa.org/kidsteens. To support the CCFA and help make Camp Oasis and other life-changing initiatives possible, please visit www.ccfa.org/donate.
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