When I look back on the defining moments of my 2013 year, one of the first things that comes to mind is Camp Discovery. When I created this event five years ago, I had no idea what it would turn out to be, if it would succeed and certainly if it would live to see another year. But, now that I look back, I realize what an amazing thing I was able to create with an idea, a group of dedicated and talented friends and five years of women who were ready to push themselves to do new and adventurous things.
The following story was written by one of those women, Michelle, who came to Colorado from Savannah, GA to take part in Camp Discovery. Her story gives a vivid picture of the changes that happen for so many women at the camp, it’s hard not to get a little teary-eyed at the transformations that happen each year. I hope you will enjoy her story as well as this year’s video.
Camp Discovery Recap by Michelle K.
“So, tell me about yourself.” I used to dread hearing that question. I never knew what to say. I would try to think of what I had done that day or that week, and I would start listing things. I play piano. I like to run. I like camping and hiking, and just being outside. I like working with animals and laughing. That works, right?
One day, I was climbing a tree with a few friends and the branches broke. I fell to the ground and broke my neck. I’ve been paralyzed ever since then. When I was in the hospital, many of the nurses and therapists would say “Tell me about yourself.” That question made me cringe! What was I supposed to say? I like to run and play piano? I can’t do that anymore. I like camping and hiking? At the time, I wasn’t sure if I could do that either. As far as being outside, working with animals and laughing, I just wasn’t ready to think about what those would be like for me now. Of course I could still do those things, but it would be different now and I didn’t know if I would still enjoy them. How I defined myself suddenly became a much bigger issue.
Most of us spend too much time wondering what other people think about us. I’m no different, and I often use my wheelchair as an excuse to dwell on this issue. “Is this person listening to me, or are they thinking about my wheelchair or wondering why my hand looks this way?” “Are they going to take me seriously if I’m in a wheelchair?” When I meet people, I usually wonder how long it will take for them to ask about the wheelchair. No matter what it is we’re talking about, I know that question is on their mind and I’m very conscious of it.
In preparation for Camp Discovery, I contacted a caregiver in Denver to help me during the weekend. We had never met in person and I needed to describe myself. Usually I tell people in this situation that I am the girl in the wheelchair. That’s not how I see myself, but you really can’t miss me. Even when I’m with other people in wheelchairs, I’m typically the only girl and very easy to spot. I immediately realized this description wouldn’t work this time. Lots of people at camp will be in wheelchairs and they’ll all be female! So how do I describe myself? I was shocked at how difficult this was! It had been so long since I last thought about describing myself – not my wheelchair. “I’m thin with long brown hair…,” I stumbled, “and my power wheelchair has a red base.” I realized – How can I expect other people to see beyond the wheelchair if I don’t even do it?
Being at Camp Discovery with so many other women in wheelchairs was incredible. What a strange experience to be at a table with a group of people I just met and not once think about the wheelchair! The wheelchair suddenly became as plain and common as a nose. We all have noses right in the middle of our faces for everyone to see, but how often do we think about them or discuss them? Noses might come up in conversation every once in a while but they’re nothing special. Suddenly, I became a woman sitting at a table with other women. Not women in wheelchairs – just women. I don’t know how most of the ladies found their way into a wheelchair and that detail really doesn’t matter. What I did learn is that we were of all ages, from different parts of the world, enjoyed different activities, had different goals in life, and every one of us was just as interesting, unique, and powerful as the next. We were individuals, separate from and not defined by our wheelchairs.
I was rolling through my neighborhood on the way to the grocery store a few days after returning home from camp when I suddenly realized I felt different than usual. I felt free. The barrier placed by the thought of being seen as the girl in the wheelchair was gone. People may still see a girl in a wheelchair, but for once it wasn’t on my mind. I was just being Michelle, enjoying a beautiful day on the way to the grocery store. Michelle – a nurse who enjoys helping people and being involved in the community. Michelle, who loves animals and the outdoors, playing music, laughing, trying new sports and being active. The same Michelle I’ve always been.