Summer Camp Life-Changing Experience For Kids With Muscular Dystrophy

LINWOOD, Kan. (WIBW) - Many kids go to summer camp, but one camp near Linwood this week is special.

What makes the kids at this camp different when they're at home, here, makes them the same.

17-year-old Kelsey Johnson of Silver Lake loves hanging pool-side with friends at camp. She says the people at camp really do feel like a second family.

It would seem she's diving into a normal summer scene - except for the wheelchairs she and many of her fellow campers left on the deck.

Kelsey has Charcot Marie Tooth disease, or CMT. In her case, it affects her legs from the knee down, to the point where she nearly always uses a wheelchair to get around.

Kelsey, her younger sister Gracie, and the 66 other campers each live with a form of muscular dystrophy. While being in a wheelchair can make life more difficult at home, at the Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual summer camp, all activities are modified so no one sits on the sidelines.

For one week, campers get a shot at being just like everyone else.

Kelsey says the bonds formed among campers are strong. She says you find something more in common with them. They all have a disability, she says, so they have the hardships you have and know what you go through, just as you know what they go through. She says it helps to have friends who truly understand and with whom you can openly talk about the issues.

Those connections are what bring Adam Maciejewski back each year. Adam has a milder form of CMT. After 10 years as a camper, he's now a counselor, driven to help camp do for other kids what it did for him.

The now 22-year old says it created a sense of normality. For one week, he says, you can be one of everyone else, with no one pointing or making fun because everybody's the same.

Adam says the feeling of belonging is life changing. He says all the love at camp made him realize anyone can do whatever they set their mind to, wheelchair or not. He says he tries to convey that message to today's campers. He says he tells them that it may get hard, but that's not what life is all about.

Adam says camp is what made him the person he is today.

Kelsey agrees. This is her third and final year of camp - she'll be too old to attend next year. But, she says, the lessons from this one week will be with her for a lifetime.

"Believe in yourself, don't let anyone get you down and tell you you can't do something," she says. "It's been an amazing experience, definitely."

Families don't pay anything for the week of camp. It's funded through your donations to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.