By David Powdrell
15 years ago Libby called and asked if I’d drive to UCSB to photograph the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, a camp for kids that I knew absolutely nothing about. “Sure”, I reluctantly replied, confident that these kids would be sad, mad, and perhaps miserable.
I was completely wrong! The kids were happy, grateful, smiling, laughing and fun! After an hour of photographing that Monday morning 15 years ago, I called my wife and asked her to cancel all my business appointments. I would be photographing these amazing kids for the entire week hoping to fill their scrapbooks and give them digital photographs to share with friends and family living outside the area. In the course of the week, they would go on to accomplish incredible acts of courage, make lifelong friends, and smile and laugh with gratitude in their eyes.
The camp provides a safe and supportive environment for mobility challenged kids to participate in a wide range of sports including rock wall climbing, swimming, tennis, hand cycles, pickleball, scuba diving, rugby, soccer, basketball and much more.
The camp breaks down physical and societal barriers for children with disabilities. The Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp demonstrates that children with mobility challenges not only participate, but actually excel in various physical endeavors, just like their able-bodied peers.
The Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp empowers kids to be more independent. Through adaptive sports and activities, they learn valuable life skills, build resilience, and develop a strong sense of self-worth. The camp has a positive impact on the mental well-being of the children too. Self-esteem is enhanced, stress is reduced, the sense of isolation is reduced, all leading to a positive outlook on life.
The camp staff and volunteers are amazing, dedicated and passionate. They all go beyond the call of duty to make every camper have the absolute best week-long experience possible.When the bug bites a new volunteer, he or she typically returns year after year.
One camper shared with me that this week was the only week of the year that he felt completely “normal”.
Another shared that her town didn’t have any camps with similar programs or opportunities.
For me, the greatest reward is when a kid overcomes what they thought was impossible. One boy, who dreaded heights, climbed to the top of the rock wall. Another, who “doesn’t swim” was scuba diving at the end of the camp experience.
Leader Rene Van Hoorn, all the staff, volunteers, sponsors, and supporters of the annual Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp should be celebrated for they are making the world a better place, one child at a time.
The 2023 camp has just concluded, but let’s hope that the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp inspires others to create similar opportunities for children with disabilities around the world.