Some of the greatest accomplishments come out of the craziest of whims. At least that’s how it seems to work for me. I have a flash of inspiration-a plan, a destination, a goal-and then I get it stuck in my mind that I can accomplish it. Figuring out the actual logistics…that always happens way down the road after I’ve committed.
That’s exactly how Camp Discovery was born. Ever since I was discharged from Craig Hospital I have traipsed through the trials and errors, ups and downs and positives and negatives of being in a chair, but I have always felt a sort of a lonliness and a lack of female companions who could truly understand what I was going through. Sure, I have a whole list of life-long able-bodied friends, who are empathetic and understanding and unfailingly patient, but when it came to other people I knew in chairs, it was always guys. Not that this is a bad thing, but there are so many questions, logistics, and issues, involved in having a spinal cord injury and sometimes you just need someone you can really TALK to. This is something, that with the exception of one or two people, I have not found much of in my nine-year journey. And I figured that if I was having a hard time, there were bound to be other women with disabilities, specifically those in chairs, who have experienced the transition from able-bodied to disabled, who feel the same way. So, it came to my mind that starting a support group might help build a community of women who could come together and share experiences. The only thing about that is that “support group” didn’t sound empowering. I wanted a group of women who could, by sharing, begin to feel stronger, bolder and braver in their lives, not just vent to each other or create a pity party. In my mind, that meant adventure and excitement; opportunities to expand and challenge. My desires were answered when I learned about the AVON Hello Tomorrow Fund, which provides grants to individuals to contribute to their community by developing or sustaining programs for women. I applied to develop an adventure camp for women in wheelchairs to be able to improve their fitness, create support systems and learn about body image and self-esteem. Following are the words of the AVON press release, which announced my successful application.
“Tricia’s winning application to the Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund met the criteria of clearly presenting unique and achievable objectives to empower women or girls and ultimately improve society. It was selected from a pool of strong contenders by an expert panel of judges, including personal finance expert Suze Orman, actress Phylicia Rashad, Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York, and experts in business and grantmaking.
“This is a great way to create a community-based fellowship for wheelchair-bound women through an uplifting shared adventure/experience,” commented Sarah Ferguson on Tricia’s proposal.
Every week since April 17, 2007, the U.S. Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund has awarded $5,000 to an individual who has submitted a compelling application to help realize a program, project, or idea that empowers women and ultimately improves society. Tricia is one of thirteen weekly winners to be selected from more than 1,200 applicants from across the U.S. who applied in the current quarterly application cycle.”
Excellent! I got the grant. But this was one case of me deciding what I wanted to do first, and then figuring out how to do it later. So my initial reaction was panic! Oh my…I’ve really committed myself now. But I knew in my mind what I wanted and that this would become a labor of love.
I gathered a group of fundraisers, recreational therapists, medical personnel, fellow wheelchair athletes, a life coach and representative from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and got started. We started meeting over lunches, dinners, and coffee making a plan. We developed a great schedule that included tennis, golf, scuba, Pilates, weights, spa time and more. We found so many people who were interested in volunteering their time and expertise to make each activity happen. All we needed were campers. At first, we thought it was going to be hard to find ten willing women, but when the applications began to flow in, we realized that ten slots wasn’t going to be nearly enough. As we raised more money we added five camper slots and prepared for October 1st when the camp would have its kick off.
I had no idea what to expect when the campers came rolling in. They ranged in age from 20s-60s with disabilities spanning from spinal cord injuries to spina bifida to M.S. I had no idea what, if anything, they would have in common…if they would bond…if we had planned a weekend of activities they would enjoy. But in less than the first hour of our Thursday evening program, I new we had hit the nail on the head. Alissa Crowley, an organizing committee member did an icebreaker. She asked each woman to look around the room and write down ten things that EVERYONE in the room had in common. Seems hard to guess when you don’t know anyone else in the room. The list started slowly, but quickly gained momentum. “We are all women.” It began. “We all laugh and cry.” Then, “we all have dreams.” A moment of silence. “We all have boobs!” Laughter. “We’re all sitting…we have dealt with some shit in our lives…we all need friends and supporters…we’ve all had good things in our lives…we all have bad hair days…we all want to try new things…” The list went on and on. And by the end, I think we all realized what we were doing in that same room, ready to experience Camp Discovery.
The rest of the weekend was filled with an exhausting list of activities and I had the fortune of watching each woman step out of her shell, out of her comfort zone, crack a smile and let out a laugh. I can’t speak for anyone else, but it was just what I needed. To see that there were other women just like me; who have triumphs and disappointments, questions, answers and who need support from others in similar situations.
I can’t say enough about the great group of women who attended the first Camp Discovery. I hope that my camp creation helped them dream a little bigger because I know they all helped me realize a dream of my own. I didn’t realize how big an impact the weekend made until I started hearing the women talk about “next year.” Panic! I had been so busy thinking about THIS year, I never even imagined a next year. Guess I better get busy…
THANKS TO OUR VERY GENEROUS SPONSORS:
AVON Hello Tomorrow Fund
Challenged Athletes Foundation
The Sporting Woman Community Fund
St. Anthony Hospital
Mountain Fitness Training Center