As expected, I truly believe I got more out of Camp No Limits than the kids who attended. Camp No Limits is put on by the No Limits Limb Loss Foundation to educate and empower young children with missing limbs through physical activity, peer support and all around fun.
Upon pulling into the gates of our camp site, Camp For All, in Burton, Texas I was beyond amazed. This was unlike any other camp I had attended. The cabins looked like large homes, I saw ropes courses, basketball courts, a resort-like pool, paved walkways, a massive dining hall and the list goes on. I later learned Camp for All was specifically designed for people with disabilities in mind to encourage growth in self confidence. Our cabins had a ton of space with large bathroom stalls and showers with nonstick floors as well as seats to sit in...no balancing act required!
As I walked through the front doors to register and meet the Camp No Limits staff and volunteers I hear "Hey, I have that ampuTeez shirt!" which was probably the best welcoming I could've received. I looked in her direction and immediately went to introduce myself to Nicole who was sitting on the ground in her two prosthetic legs. She looked like the happiest and most at peace woman I honestly think I've ever seen. Nicole lost her legs not even a year prior when she walked into a gas station and her heart stopped unexpectedly. After time in a coma and blood not circulating properly to her legs, they had to be amputated. Nicole eventually woke up from her coma not knowing what had happened or that her legs had been amputated above the knees. With as active and positive as she is you would think she's been dealing with this her whole life. Nicole altered my mindset in just those first few minutes of arriving at camp.
Eventually the kids started showing up, most of them quite shy in the initial few hours of camp. I saw two little girls chasing each other around on their nubs, both of them missing their legs above the knee. Another little boy was jumping around so excited his leg fell off, he simply picked it up, slid it back on and kept running like nothing had happened. There were ranges of kids from 4 to 10 years old all faced with the same challenges of living life as amputees (and even one young girl who was considering amputation due to a condition in both legs not allowing her knees to bend), but they were all just kids, wanting to play, act silly, eat sugar, run around...and never rest! Not only were the kids amazing, but there were multiple volunteers in their twenties and thirties who were also amputees. Each of us had our own stories, challenges, successes, advice, and support to give the kids, their families and each other. In just 72 hours I built bonds with people I know will last a lifetime and that is something you simply can't put a price tag on.
In addition there were prosthetists, occupational and physical therapists attending camp to not only provide feedback, but also to learn from all of us. I watched them put a running foot on a couple of young boys who instantly took off, easily adjusting to a blade style foot. I learned more about options for prosthetics that can get wet for swimming and water activities, like the Rush foot and Ossur liners and sleeves. I also had the pleasure of getting feedback from many Hanger patients and employees, causing me to schedule an appointment in San Antonio upon my return.
By the last day of camp I had gone canoeing, swung from at least 30' high, shot paintball guns, pet reptiles and barnyard animals, mined for gold, roasted marshmallows, run through obstacle courses and was appreciatively exhausted. In this time I also had the pleasure of exchanging emails, phone numbers and Facebook and Instagram profiles, and travel arrangements for National Amputee Coalition Conference and am looking forward to watching each of us continue to grow, succeed, motivate and empower each other, the amputee community and so many more. I got choked up and cried my last day before leaving while telling everyone it was my first time in 20 years wearing shorts and it was all because of the confidence they showed, how important it is for us to be proud and me trying to set an example; exactly why I started ampuTeez.