Amputee Camp — Fun Without Limits

Circa 2007

Recently, the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) held its seventh annual summer youth camp in Warm Springs, GA, where 60 children with limb loss and limb differences between 10 and 16, enjoyed four days of swimming, fishing, dancing, nature walks and horseback riding. Of course there was singing around the campfire and a chance to make ooey-gooey s’mores under the stars.

Eighty percent of the youth who attended the camp were flown in from 26 different states. “Our mission is to serve people with limb loss and limb differences,” says Vicki Foster, the outreach & communications manager. “We saw a need to offer a national camp, not just one for kids who lived in the area,” she added. The children are chaperoned by more than a dozen camp counselors as well as an “awesome” group of volunteers, who include professional bowlers, professional golfers and even Paralympics swimmers.

While many of the activities are just for fun, the camp directors try to sneak in a few good-for-you sessions that improve the children’s everyday lives. So they stir in a dash of information on nutrition, which is a huge issue for all kids, but especially those who wear prosthetics, says Foster. Counselors also hold informal discussions for the kids to talk about selfesteem, education, careers and dating.

ACA estimates that there are 70,000 individuals under 18 living with limb loss in the United States. To accommodate a growing number of campers, the facilities will relocate for the 2008 season.

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“We’ll move to Atlanta or Cincinnati,” says Foster. “Both of those cities have camp-site areas that can accommodate over 200 children, and we’re very excited about the opportunity to expand.”

Bryn Byers, a happy camper two summers in a row, returned this year as a junior counselor It was just in 2007 that.ACA added its junior counselor program for 17 year olds who have attended camp in the past, and who have exhibited strong leadership qualities. Bryn, who is now 17, is amont the first wave. She says, “I’ve made a lot of friends that I’ve kept in touch with, and I was excited to see everyone again.”

In 2003, Bryn was involved in a 4-wheeling accident in her hometown Polo, IL, when she collided with her brother. Ironically, neither knew the other was on the road, and as they approached an intersection, neither of them stopped. Bryn was struck from the side and injured. Her brother, Brix, was unharmed.

She finds that aside from the vast array of sports, activities and all-around fun ACA camp offers, it is a place of comfort. “You feel right a home,” Bryn explains. “You don’t have to worry about your appearance because people aren’t judging you and looking at your leg or what you look like. Everybody understands. Before camp, I didn’t even know I could wear flip-flops, but they taught me how.”

Bryn fractured a heel, which became so badly infected that she nearly died. She endured numerous surgeries, and spent a good amount of time in a hyperbaric oxygen unit to try to stimulate healing. After 10 doctors’ weighed in, the consensus was that the best option was to have her leg amputated below the knee. “I was 13 years old,” Bryn says.

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ACA camp applicants must be between the ages of 10 and 16, and must write an essay about why they would like to attend. There is also a $500 fee, which includes travel expenses. Foster encourages young people who are interested to keep a close eye on the ACA webpage calendar. When 2008 camp dates are available, they will be posted for youth to apply. Although ACA may not be able to accommodate everyone who applies in a given year, those who can’t come out one summer are put on a waiting list for the next.

In the four years since the operation, Bryn has changed a lot. “I don’t take things for granted anymore, because I thought I couldn’t survive and I did,” she says. “When I go to camp, I can relate to other kids and counselors because they’ve been though similar situations. It inspires me to make the most of my life.”

by Sonnie Gutierrez

The camp is seeking volunteers. If you’re interested in becoming one , call the Youth Activities Program at 1-888-267-5669 or send an email to ya*****@am***************.org

www.amputee-coalition.org

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