Being special can be a wonderful thing. However, being special 24/7 can actually be isolating. Special needs camps can provide a refuge for those of us who are awesomely special without even trying! Recently, I attended Camp Wawbeek, a special needs camp in Wisconsin Dells, a place where I am just a regular guy.
One of the prices of fame is losing the ability to have privacy. Celebrities cannot simply go to the local market or out to eat at a bar and grill without drawing attention. Individuals with disabilities are very much like celebrities, except without the fame and fortune. We rarely go unnoticed when out in the community.
Sometimes when I am eating out, you would think by the awe of “my audience” I was completing a spectacular feat. I am in the spotlight like Hulk Hogan when he executes a fabulous leg drop or Eric Thames when he hits a grand slam! In reality, I am just a guy in a wheelchair with a quirky body eating a burger!
Most days this attention does not phase me. However, some days I wish I could just blend. Having a disability so visible is like being on stage in the Twilight Zone. There is no “stage left” to exit. Every summer for one week, Camp Wabeek becomes my stage left exit.
When I was going to school, I spent my days with my peers. However, I was the only kid in a wheelchair. It was hard to find someone that could relate to me through experience. Today, I live in an apartment building where every resident has a disability of some sort. However, I am the youngest by at least 20 years. Again, I really struggle to find a person who can relate to me as a young man with a disability.
For one week every year, I get to blend, really blend. I am one in a sea of wheelchairs. At camp, my stutter and speech impediment are not so unique. I can eat without the stares of others. In fact, dropping food on my shirt actually helps me fit in! For one week, I am not special. For one week, I am just me.
Special needs camps are a place where there are no boundaries. Individuals with disabilities can do just about anything they want to do. In my case, I play basketball, swim, and even hit the dance floor. I do all of these things without being standing out. I’m just another guy on the court who can’t shoot to save his life. I am just another swimmer floating in the pool. On the final night of camp, I am just another wheeler showing off my mad “Chicken Dance” moves.
Unfortunately, the costs of special needs camps can be extremely expensive. My 5 day stay at Camp Wawbeek is about $900. A full summer can cost a family about $11,000! However, there are agencies who help sponsor kids and adults so they can attend. Despite these sponsorships, there are those who are unable to experience the magic of special needs camps because of their high cost.
Some camp programs, like the Easter Seals, allow individuals to sponsor campers directly. These sponsorships not only give kids/adults the special needs camp experience, but they also give kids/adults a break from being “special”.
Getting a break from reality can recharge your batteries (pun intended for power wheelers). Special needs camps provide a reprieve from the challenges of being disabled in an abled world. A place where you can be anything you want without being special…and that is a good thing!
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’
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