I’ve been home for a few days now. People keep asking me, “How was camp?” To which I can’t really respond with anything other than (albeit sincerely) “Camp was incredible. The kids are amazing. I’m so lucky to get to work with so many hard-working, committed coaches and staff and to coach such wonderful kids.”
That’s what I say, and it’s true, but these people (my friends and family, who I love very much) ask me this question with no idea how loaded it is: how I can’t answer that question no matter how hard I try – for the words I say in that casual conversation cannot express the memories it brings up, the lump that rises to my throat, and the tears that threaten to fill my eyes when I try to answer. I usually stutter before I can get any words out, and even when they do come it’s incredibly frustrating. Because I can’t answer such a simple question about camp. Camp is worth so much more than one simple answer. I’m tearing up now as I write, and my mind is back out on the fields, working with one camper on her forehands, cheering on the team in the final game of the tournament, swatting away bugs as I throw disc after disc for a game of 500. In my mind’s eye I am not sitting in my own bed but rather I’m walking into my dorm room, ready for a cold shower. I’m walking to the dining hall for breakfast, wishing I’d had more time to sleep but looking forward to the day. I’m talking to my co-coaches about the drills and expectations for the day. I’m watching my team – my multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious team come together right before my eyes.
I’m still in the “Post-Camp Haze,” as another coach so rightly called it. Granted, this is the first time I’ve been in the States in four months, so I’m sure the reverse culture shock is a little more extensive than it would be had I only gone to camp and come home, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of “camp-mode.” I’ve been enjoying the home-cooked meals and my own room, yes, but I feel as though I am in a cloud. This was my fourth summer with Ultimate Peace, but still I find myself in shock, in utter shock, at the incredible feat we have managed to put together. Because of our work, lives have changed. Others’ and our own. We have made a difference. I believe in the power of making differences with small acts of gratitude and kindness every day, but this is different. These past few weeks I have been a part of something far, far bigger than myself and I couldn’t be more grateful. I couldn’t be more proud: of myself, of my teams from each camp, of my co-coaches, the whole staff, and the entire UP community. Let’s take a look at what we’ve accomplished. Granted, it’s only a few examples, but if I didn’t cut myself off this post would never end.
A girl on my Summer Camp team – the youngest member – told the group at our last practice that she had improved more than she ever thought could be possible. She isn’t a particularly experienced player. She has good instincts but her throws showed that she was a new player. Her biggest problem was confidence; she was a quiet, timid girl, and if a throw went wrong, she put her hands up to her face and hid behind them, embarrassed. Five short days later, she was throwing not only with more skill but with more confidence. The two go hand in hand and I am proud to say that that was not only the work of the coaches but also the work of her teammates’ encouragement and support. We – a collective we – gave her not only Ultimate but a chance to grow as a person, and I can’t imagine anything better than that.
Another girl from Summer Camp told the team at our last meeting, with tears in her eyes, that she didn’t want to leave. That we were a family and the girls were her sisters. She told us we were making a difference and she thanked the team. She spoke quiet and poignant words in beautifully accented English, in words I cannot capture. I had been worried about this particular camper earlier on, because she was very quiet, and tended to take a step back and observe what was happening around her. She was attentive; it wasn’t that she didn’t want to join the team – it was more that she was by nature more reserved and, kind of like me, found it in that nature to take a step back, watch carefully, and quietly analyze. I had been worried that her more reserved demeanor would make it difficult for her to fit in with the team. Clearly, however, she had found her place. She had found her place and expanded herself far beyond its confines. I had the opportunity to meet this camper’s mother at the end of camp, who told me that her daughter had loved camp. That she’d had the most wonderful time, and in response I tried to say that I loved her, that I was so happy and so lucky to have her daughter on my team, but I couldn’t get the words out. They were too heavy to flow freely, weighed down with the sadness that came with saying goodbye. It was okay, though, mother and daughter understood the love I was trying to express, for it was something they felt in their own hearts.
One of the CITs in my group shared with the team what had been her biggest fear going into the camp, which was that some of her campers might say they were too tired to participate, or not always want to play. This group, however, she said, had made that fear irrelevant. They made it a non-issue, as they were ready to go and enthusiastic and eager all the time. Another of the CITs said that her biggest fear had been that her group wouldn’t come together as a team: that their differences would prove too difficult to overcome. But they had cured her of that fear early on.
One of the more experienced players on our team, who at first had seemed a little overwhelmed at being surrounded by so many others who were in many ways very different than she, had stepped up as a leader. At first, she was quiet and kept to herself and the friends with whom she had arrived at the beginning. By the end of camp, she had stepped up as a leader not only in play on the field, but vocally as well. She was a competitive girl, but often chose to step off the field to give her teammates a chance to play. She led cheers, she played with her heart and soul, and she became more confident in herself. At our last meeting, she told the team how proud she was of them all. She told them with tears in her eyes that they had all stepped up and risen to the challenge presented by that final game.
At the end of every camp, the staff chooses a “Starting 7.” This is a group of campers who have stood out for their leadership, effort, and enactment of our 5 values: mainly, for Spirit. We chose a member of our team, an experienced player. We chose her not for her skills but for the ways in which she had carried our team by encouraging others, playing fairly, giving everything she had in games, and showing Spirit on and off the field to teammates, opponents, and strangers alike. When her name was called in front of the whole camp and she went onstage with the others, I couldn’t see her face. But when she left the stage, she walked past my seat, and I saw an image I’ll never forget: Tears streaming down her face and an expression of something so much deeper than happiness, gratitude, and pride emanating from within.
The tears started again for me too, at that moment. This meant so much to her. When she looks back, she won’t see this as some silly award from some sports camp. This moment, this camp, played a role in the person she was choosing to become. These moments, these camps, have played and will always continue to play a role in all of our hearts; they guide us towards our best selves and towards the differences we now know we can make.
These are the moments we create at camp. These are the types of attitudes we foster. This is why I can’t explain camp in a casual conversation. It’s too much, it’s too life-changing to be captured in anything less than a long, heartfelt discussion (or blog post). All of these moments I have brought to light-they are just a few of the many, many hundreds of moments we see every single day at camp. What I have found in my past four summers of Ultimate Peace is that these kids – these brilliant, hardworking, and Spirited kids – have a whole world of potential to give. We don’t give anything new to these incredible, incredible kids with whom we work; rather, we simply give them the opportunities to shine. We only bring out what is already within. And we couldn’t be more blessed to have the chance to do so.