I stood in the gym and watched as the athletes brought in their luggage and said goodbye to their parents/guardians. Some had great big smiles on their faces while others had a look of apprehension – for this would be the first time that they had spent a week away from home. This sounds like a typical beginning to any summer camp, but this was not just ANY summer camp – this was the Special Olympics Team MO National Games selection camp.
This was my first time to go to athlete camp as well, and I was so excited to see what was in store. I was paired up with a basketball team from St. Louis – 10 athletes and two coaches that I had never met before. I was thrilled to have the chance to get to know these athletes, but I had no idea what a life changing experience I was about to encounter.
As the week began, I watched these athletes train – running drills and scrimmaging for 3-4 hours a morning, and then doing cross training for 3-4 hours each afternoon. I was amazed at how they soaked everything in, and never once complained about being tired or asking to sit out. I watched how some struggled with some of the new drills that they were asked to do, and just as they were about to get frustrated, a fellow athlete would come over and take the time to help them out.
As the week went on, I watched these same athletes do these drills over and over and by the end of the week, I had a complete different set of athletes standing before me. Sure it was the same group, but they had grown so much! They not only changed out on the basketball court, but they changed with the way they interacted with the other teams, they changed with their independence, they changed their attitudes and their confidence grew, but most of all – they changed me.
I will forever cherish the week that I spent with this team, whether it was talking, laughing, running, dancing, or shooting hoops with them, the memories that I have will forever hold a special place in my heart. Their outlook on life and their cheerful spirits are something that I will strive to imitate each and every day. Thank you for making this week possible for so many athletes, and I encourage you to come and spend a few hours with these amazing athletes at camp next summer.
Crystal Chalk is the Central Area Associate Director. She has worked for SOMO for seven years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.