Guest Entry: A Camp Sunshine Camper Speaks

Today’s guest blog comes from Ron Williams, a former camper and current counselor and director at Camp Sunshine.

Every kid should get the opportunity to go to summer camp at some point in their childhood.  I do not wish for any child to be in the position to attend Camp Sunshine, but I am truly grateful that I was.  You see, to “get in” to Camp Sunshine, one has to satisfy two specific criteria- first you have to be a kid, which is easy enough, but secondly, you must have been diagnosed with cancer.  At camp, there are little kids with leukemia, teens with tumors, and a bit of everything in between…some are on active treatment, some are survivors, and some have stopped their therapy.  But whatever brought them there, Camp Sunshine holds a special place in the hearts of its campers…and this I know from experience.

I was a 14 year old soccer standout when a nagging pain in my left shin turned out to be osteogenic sarcoma- bone cancer.  I spent my first week at camp shortly after the amputation of my leg below the knee and in the middle of my chemo.  I was pretty down in the dumps, but camp lifted my spirits and showed me that life could go on, better than usual even.  I learned how to water ski on one leg (a real slalom), a skill that ended up earning me a college scholarship for skiing at Georgia College.  After college, when skiing competitions were less available, I switched over to cycling, and after a few years of hard training, earned a spot on the US Paralympic Cycling Team in 2000, 2004, and 2008, bringing home a bronze and a silver medal from the games in Athens.

As proud as I am of these achievements, I am more proud of my continued involvement with Camp Sunshine, starting with four years as a camper, and now as a member of the board of directors and as a counselor each summer.  I attribute all of the good things in my life, directly or indirectly, to camp…it was there I learned about setbacks, survival, and success.  Camp Sunshine made me who I am, and I am forever grateful.  Without the encouragement of the counselors, directors, and other campers at Camp Sunshine, my life would have turned out very differently.

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Guest Entry: A Camp Sunshine Counselor Speaks

Today’s guest entry comes from Emily, a former camper and current counselor at Camp Sunshine.  RaceTrac is donating 100% of its coffee proceeds sold between Monday, Dec 21st and Wednesday, Dec 23rd in its Georgia Stores to this organization, dedicated to providing everyday experiences to children with cancer and their families.  You can learn more about Camp Sunshine at www.mycampsunshine.com.

Each morning during Camp Sunshine summer camp, you see counselors carrying travel mugs full of steaming coffee off to early morning fishing, or to the pool to take pictures of their campers sliding down the big slide. In the dining hall, you usually see a line of counselors with two mugs in hand, one for themselves and one for their co-counselor.  When I was a camper, I thought that they were drinking coffee because that is what my dad did, so of course all old people just did it. However, when I became a counselor myself, I realized that adrenaline alone might sustain you through a jam-packed day, but caffeine will certainly help.

You might think that a camp for children with cancer is calm, serene, and quiet. You would be correct. From about 11 p.m. until about 6 a.m. it is calm and quiet. However, the other seventeen hours of the day are jam-packed full of squeals, giggles, drumming, chanting, cheering, swimming, boating, hammering, dancing, karate yells, kickball, unsanctioned wheelchair races, music, and too many other activities to list. The counselors need that coffee to keep up with their camper who just left the infirmary to get their chemo, because that child simply must get to goldpanning on the other side of camp. The counselor drinks her coffee because not only will her child with a prosthetic leg climb to the top of the climbing tower, she just might challenge her counselor to a race to the top. The counselor needs the coffee because her campers will want to dance with her after every meal to Justin and his guitar.

The counselor needs the coffee to push a child confined to a wheelchair to each activity that camp offers. There is an unspoken understanding that the child has to experience all that camp has to offer in this one week because it will take a miracle to see her again next year. It takes a counselor full of coffee and caffeine to be able to get up at night to help this child to the bathroom because the medications make her unable to help herself. The counselor needs coffee to give her the emotional strength to say goodbye to that child at the end of the week. The counselor needs to drink her coffee a few months later and reflect on the great week that child had, and to be grateful for the time she had to get to know such an incredible person.

The counselor drinks her coffee so that he can stay up and tell funny jokes with his campers at night. They even might “sneak out” and go play dodgeball in the gym. The counselor needs his coffee to help distract a seven year-old from his homesickness and introduce him to friends who will one day be the groomsmen in his wedding. Counselors need coffee so that we can show these children who are fighting for their lives that Camp Sunshine makes their lives worth living. We pray that one day soon they will be drinking coffee and chasing their own campers throughout the camp.

As you grab a cup of coffee at RaceTrac this week, think of the campers who you are helping when you do so. Maybe grab a cup to take to a coworker, friend, or family member who you see as your “co-counselor” in life. When we drink our coffee at Camp Sunshine, we know that we are on the brink of changing lives. When you drink your coffee at RaceTrac, know that your cup has just done the same.

The SEC Championship Recap: A Gator Fan Speaks or, “You Can’t Win Them All”

I have been a Gator since birth and UF was the only permissible option I had for college, so needless to say, this weekend was a difficult one for me.

After riding on MARTA like sardines in a can, we stepped out to bear the arctic Atlanta Saturday.  Following all of the other unprepared-for-winter, non-jort-wearing Floridians into the appropriately named Orange Lot, I could feel the excitement, optimism, and frost bite in the air. Once we settled at our tailgate and prepared for the long day ahead, we caught up with old friends and haggled with local artists selling shirtless Tim Tebow sketches.

As game time quickly approached, the group of us who wisely chose not to take out a second mortgage to buy tickets made our way through the sea of houndstooth to the CNN center, landing in front of three giant flat screens for what promised to be one of the most exciting games in a long time.  I wish I could say the next four hours were a blur, but unfortunately, I remember every gut wrenching minute. Between screaming for Tebow to get rid of the ball and ever-so-kindly teaching the “Alabama fan” behind me how to pronounce their quarterback’s name, there was no question I would be hoarse at work on Monday morning.  Yet my voice and Tebow’s pride weren’t the only thing that suffered that day.  I tried to call my mom to vent about the game, but rest in peace, Mom’s little flip phone, we hardly knew ye.  A 75-mph meeting with the wall took you from us too soon.

Now I guess I understand the saying “you can’t win them all.” I have to remind my spoiled self that I can’t be too disappointed this year because I was fortunate enough to witness four national championships during my college career. And hey, Bourbon Street on New Year’s Eve doesn’t sound like such a bad idea after all. As I avoid all of the scrutiny and bad mouthing at work this week, I’m going to get to the drawing board to create a clothing pattern that we Gators can claim as our own. I might even order one of those vials of Tebow’s tears off eBay (I hear that stuff can cure the incurable).

It still is and always will be great to be a Florida Gator!