Tommy attended a day of VIP Sports Camp at Slipper Rock University this June. This is a week long, overnight camp but Tommy only attended for one day. He just isn’t where he needs to be with independent living skills like dressing, toileting, eating and bathing to be able to function at an away camp. I knew he wasn’t ready, but I have been corresponding with the camp for a couple years now because I just knew it would be perfect for Tom. I didn’t think about it too much this year because I knew he wasn’t quite ready for it yet. Well the camp asked if Tommy would be attending and offered him the opportunity to try camp for the day! Of course we said yes.
I took Tommy and dropped him off at Slippery Rock University at 8:35 am on a Tuesday morning. Slippery Rock is located a little over an hour north of Pittsburgh, where we live in Pennsylvania. When we arrived on campus it was easy to spot the group in their matching shirts, tie-dyed VIP sports bags, and long white canes.
We caught up with his group and I met Wendy Fagan who runs this program. She was excited to meet Tom and assured me that he’d have a great time. Tom and I were then introduced to Alyssa, who would be his one-on-one helper that day. We walked down to the building with the pool and climbing wall so the kids could try their first activity of the day, the climbing wall. Tom got dressed in his VIP sports t-shirt (that fit him like a dress) and we sat him down with Alyssa to wait for his turn on the rock wall. He happened to sit right next to a little boy named Jackson who was very talkative and silly. Jackson got Tom to repeat his silly, nonsense phrases and in no time they were laughing. Tom still had a death grip on my hand, but he was starting to have fun. I took this as my opportunity to leave.
Yep, after less than 10 minutes I left him. I think leaving is sometimes the best possible thing you can do for your child. They may have allowed me to volunteer or sign additional wavers and stay, but Tom has to have the opportunity to stretch his wings in unfamiliar situations.
I had no idea how Tom would react to this sport camp so I didn’t want to drive an hour home only to have them call me right back, so I just decided to hang around town until I got a call to pick him up. There is a big outlet mall about 15 minutes from the university so I went over there and shopped, had lunch and read my book. I was there for hours and never got a call. By the afternoon I was restless so I drove over to McConnell’s Mill State Park to walk around for an hour. There was still no call so I read more and then went to have some dinner. The evening was dragging by but I was so proud of him for handling this on his own. I was very curious to hear about his day but all I could do was wait.
The bus was supposed to get back to campus by 9:00 and I was so excited to see it pull in. I thought he would be tired after such a long day but he was full of energy! He came off the bus with his new buddy Alyssa, looking like a much older child than I had left there that morning. I think experiences like that do change children. Not in a huge way, but in the way that makes them just a bit more sure of themselves.
They do different things every day at camp, but the day Tommy visited he climbed a rock wall, went rowing, visited a trampoline park, and rode horses. They also had a picnic which he thought was amazing. He loved the trampoline park so much that we visited one near our house. Trampoline parks are quite a workout. Other moms were sitting by relaxing but I jumped with Tommy the entire time and I was sweaty and exhausted by the time our hour was up. And Tommy now loves horses and want to ride again.
VIP Sports Camp was an incredible opportunity to try new sports in a supportive environment. As he gets older he will really benefit from the opportunity to hang out with other blind kids. I know he really enjoyed Jackson and the other boys he met that day. Now we are working hard to get him where he needs to be to stay overnight all week next year. If you can possibly make it to Western Pennsylvania I can’t recommend VIP Sports Camp to you enough!
You can find VIP Sports Camp on Facebook too!