It came and it went, just like that. It's too short, it's too fast. Just like life. We were so lucky to attend Camp No Limits again this year and we received the JIQ scholarship. It was a giant blessing to attend again!
We drove straight from the airport to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is home to Winter the Dolphin. We had some baggage issues at the airport so we ended up meeting everyone a little late. We started seeing prosthetics, missing hands, missing legs, crutches, Camp No Limits shirts and most of all, warm, welcoming smiles. Some familiar faces and many, many new faces. You can always tell the group though, people are smiling and happy. It's truly a family. Watching Winter was awesome but the highlight of the aquarium this time was the stingray experience. She touched them last year but this year she didn't want to leave that area. She LOVED it! We had dinner back at camp and some introductions. We ended the night with an animal show. Luca and Bella held an alligator! I didn't even watch to touch it!
Day two started with breakfast and energizers. We were part of the flubber activity, which helps to encourage children with upper limb differences to use both arms to do things. It may seems silly to some but it's very beneficial. It's sensory and helps encourage muscle movement in BOTH arms. There were support groups for parents and activities for all of the kids. I'm pretty sure I barely saw Bella all morning! After lunch we went tree climbing! Bella got harnessed in and up the rope she went. She had no problems, no limits! It was incredible to witness her ear to ear smile, I swear you could see her glowing. It was also incredible to witness the other children there. I had to laugh because the instructor kept saying "Use both hands"... I'm pretty sure it was part of his speech but I wonder if he realized that 90% of our group at that time didn't have "both" hands! To watch the courage and dedication of these kids will never cease to amaze me. We polished off the night with a campfire and s'mores! Bella and Luca fell asleep in the stroller on the way back! Grayson was quite crabby from all of the action all day but fell asleep as soon as he hit the bed.
Day 3, she left with Jimmy and his mom, Tina and then left breakfast with them when we got there. We did energizers again and some more skills and playing. The boys went to the sibling group, which was really helpful. Ryan and I were really able to focus on learning to tie shoes with her, Isaac (on OT), Keegan, Kari. We decided that the boys should really have a nap so Ryan and Bella went rope climbing and kayaking and I did some homework (ah grad school!) while they napped. I may or may not have closed my eyes too :) When they woke up, Ryan took Grayson kayaking and I headed to bikes with Bella and Luca. Jimmy helped Bella adjust the seat (that's a true 4 year old gentlemen!). Bella took off around the trail with Janey, an incredible PT then with Keegan. We ended the night with a slideshow that would bring any person to tears. Then they danced! Parents danced along with all of the campers and their siblings. It was so fun to watch them all be so carefree.
Bella really stepped out of her comfort zone. She got harnessed in, climbed trees, climbed ropes, kayaked and biked. Most of all, she reconnected with old friends, made deeper connections and welcomed new campers by making new friendships. As a parent, it's weird to have your five-year-old say "Mom, I'm going with Jimmy, see ya later". "Mom can I hang out with Katie and you can do whatever?" She was ready and willing to just jump right in!
To watch how much these kids grow in 3 days is nothing short of incredible. Their self-confidence, the skills they gain, the friendships formed and the family that is built. I could seriously cry just writing this blog and thinking about it. On our way back, Bella talked about how her and Jimmy had "almost the same hand", about how much she loved Katie, how everyone helped her tie her shoes. The friendships that you build at camp are friendships that last a lifetime. She hugged everyone goodbye about 10 times. Luca hugged people and so did Grayson. My heart was bursting.
What made this Florida camp different than last year? We weren't the "newbies", we were comfortable there and we were ready and willing to welcome first time campers to the Camp No Limits family. There were endless volunteers, PT and OT students that really embraced this opportunity, their heart and souls were engulfed in the experience. It makes a HUGE difference to have these students and mentors there that can help our daughter.
How do you know your child enjoyed camp? They say this:
"I wish we could live at camp all year and not have to miss all of our friends!"
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