Our campers met some superhumans today.
The day’s focus was the right to rest and leisure, and, as always, we asked who might get left out of that right. One group we identified was people with disabilities, who often have limited access to recreation and sports. We set out to discover how people with disabilities are claiming this right for themselves, and who their allies are in expanding access to this right.
First off, we watched an amazing video highlighting Paralympic athletes and disabled musicians, dancers, and others. The video is called “We’re the Superhumans,” and it’s hard to think of a more apt name. Our campers were so astounded by the skills depicted in the video that we needed to watch it twice to let it sink in. The theme song’s lyrics, “Yes, I can . . . yes, I can . . . yes I can . . . ” replayed themselves in our heads as we set out on our field trip to Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus.
Three super women met us at the GSW gym. Annie Garrett and Hope Rosenlund from Camp Twin Lakes explained about their work providing summer camp experiences for children with a wide variety of chronic diseases, disabilities, and other conditions that make recreation a challenge. Harriet Kay from Catalyst Sports, a double amputee and adaptive rock climber, shared her story of growing up with a disability. Her parents, she told us, never assumed that she couldn’t do what her peers were doing, so she learned to run, bike, swim, and play right along with her friends. As an adult, she decided to try rock climbing and became hooked. She coached our campers as they each took a turn climbing the GSW rock wall, and then gave us a demonstration of her own skill. Her superpowers of openness and enthusiasm inspired our campers as much as her climbing skill did, and we greatly appreciate the time she spent with us.
While a few campers at a time climbed with Harriet, Annie and Hope met with the larger group in the adjacent gym. They led us in a team-building exercise that also illustrated some of the challenges that their own campers face. Many of our group were assigned a limitation of some sort: they could only speak in 2-word sentences, for example, or they were blindfolded, in a wheelchair, or limited to the use of one arm. Then they all lined up, holding a very long rope. They were given the challenge of tying a knot in the rope in a certain spot, without letting go. It took many, many attempts, and persistent teamwork (plus a few hints!) but the task was finally accomplished. More significant than the completion of the task, though, was the processing that took place afterward. Campers were able to express how their assigned limitations impacted their ability to participate as a team member, what they needed from their peers to be able to contribute to the group, and how they felt about the process. They asked questions about the best way to offer support to people with disabilities, and recognized that many disabilities are invisible until you get to know a person. One camper, himself on the autism spectrum, was able to speak from personal experience about how his disability impacts his life, and in the process, he was able to help his fellow campers understand him better. His courage in sharing his story definitely qualifies him as a superhuman as well.
Our campers will not soon forget today’s experiences. From pushing themselves beyond what they believed they could do on the rock wall, to seeing people with disabilities as new friends and teachers, to using their varied abilities and insights to solve a group problem, to learning to appreciate the point of view of people who interact with the world differently than they do, it was a super, super day.