Charles McDonald first attended Mary Free Bed Jr. Wheelchair Sports Camp in 2002 as a camper. This year, he served as an instructor.
More than 50 campers with disabilities participated in the July 25-29 camp at Grand Valley State University in Allendale. The free event offers kids of all ability levels and ages the opportunity to share in the camaraderie and competition that playing sports provides.
The event, organized by Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports, is staffed by dozens of volunteers and instructors, some of whom are former campers like Charles.
“When I was a camper, they were here for me,” he said. “I’m here for them now, to show them that love, show them that respect, give them that patience, give them that time to grow.”
The program was attended by campers ages 7 to 18 from across Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
“The whole point of camp is to let kids know they can participate in the same sports and go to the same kind of camps that all of their able-bodied friends can,” said Maria Besta, manager of Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports.
Programs are geared to children with physical disabilities and who require the use of a wheelchair. Sports include wheelchair basketball, tennis, handcycling, kayaking, Frisbee golf, softball, sled hockey, swimming and more.
In addition to the sports activities, special events also were held to ensure campers had a great time. The Allendale Fire Department, equipped with a firetruck and plenty of hoses, helped create a giant water fight. The week also included an Under the Sea-themed dance.
The week culminated with an awards ceremony. Most Improved Camper was awarded to Michael Dykstra, Joshua Eising and Daniel Williams, while campers Justin DeBoer, Philipe Hernandez and Greyson Gibbs received the Best Sportsmanship Award. Campers also were given a commemorative book filled with pictures from the week.
Michael Dykstra, a first-time camper, had only had one word to describe the week: “Awesome.”
Evan Garcia, a Michigan State University College of Medicine student, thought the week-long camp would be a fun volunteering experience. “I have definitely been entertained the entire time,” he said.
Whether a camper is interested in pursuing a higher level of competition or simply seeking a fun physical outlet, Wheelchair Sports Camp is a chance to spend time with peers who face similar challenges and to forge lifelong friendships. Learn more about adaptive sports opportunities by calling Mary Free Bed Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports at 616.840.8356 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several local news outlets visited camp and shared great stories: