Our son Shamus was born in 2006. Shortly after his birth we began to notice that he wasn’t meeting his “motor milestones”, such as sitting unsupported, crawling, rolling, etc. He was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy. My wife Nichole and I immediately decided that although Shamus’ diagnosis may limit him physically, we did not want it to limit his opportunities. Whatever Shamus wanted to try as he grew up, we would figure out a way to try. We would adapt, accommodate, modify and assist in any way we could so that Shamus could have the experiences of an active childhood. We got him involved in adaptive sports, horseback riding, piano lessons, had him help us with cooking in the kitchen, jumped with him in bounce houses and simply tried to give him every opportunity he wanted.
Since I am a physical therapist and Nichole is a special education teacher, we were both well aware of Double H Ranch, even before we had Shamus. We had participated in several fundraising events for camp and truly believed in the mission of providing camp opportunities for kids with disabilities. As Shamus turned six, we enrolled him in the winter skiing program at Double H, knowing that zipping down the slopes would be right up his alley.
“Light up the slopes with beaming smiles”
I’ll never forget his first ski session. Of course we were all a little bit anxious. However, as soon as we entered the lodge our minds were put at ease as we were welcomed with friendly smiles and kind words. Shamus tends to be a bit quiet and reserved in new situations, and the staff and volunteers were great at not overwhelming him. They explained all the equipment and talked him through the ski lesson he would be receiving. His smile when he got on Mary’s Way with his instructors and then as he slid down the hill in his sit ski is forever happily implanted in my memory. I simply stood in awe, moved to tears of joys as I watched skiers of all abilities, with various medical diagnosis light up the slopes with their beaming smiles, and my son was out there among them loving it.
During the winter season, as the weeks went by, we were approached by several staff members asking if Shamus would be attending summer camp that summer. Nichole and I knew he was age-eligible but we couldn’t imagine sending our first grader to a summer camp for a week…without us! We were assured that the counselors and staff were well trained, medical staff was always available, and Shamus would be in great hands. Of course we discussed it in the ensuing weeks and Shamus thought that it sounded like fun, though he never been away from Nichole or me for more than a night or two, and on each of those occasions he was in the care of a family member.
“Our fears quickly dissipated”
We decided to sign him up with a mix of both apprehension and excitement. As the first day of camp approached, our anxiety increased, as we didn’t know how Shamus would respond to being away from home for a week, or how Nichole, Simon (Shamus’s younger brother) and I would respond to him being gone! Once again, when we arrived at camp, our fears quickly dissipated. We discussed all of our questions and Shamus’s medical concerns with the counselors and nurse. Shay seemed comfortable with every one and everyone welcomed him with open arms. They reviewed his schedule for the week with us and we were amazed at how full his days would be! We helped Shamus to move into his room and met his roommates for the week, gave him lots of hugs and told him to have lots of fun.
For the next week, Nichole and I spent time with Simon and of course thought about Shamus a lot, imagining all of the fun things he was doing. At the same time we focused on having some quality time for the three of us, something we hadn’t ever done for any extended period of time. By the end of the week we were excited to be headed back to Double H. We arrived once again to a smiling child, surrounded by new friends and caring counselors.
“He was embraced and surrounded by the love of his Double H family”
On the ride home, he told of stories of all the things he did each day. From camp fires, to arts and crafts, to high ropes, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, a trip to the great escape, petting animals in the barn, riding horses and on and on. I had been to summer camp as a boy, and didn’t have half of the opportunities that Shamus had. We were amazed at everything he was able to accomplish and participate in, and how devoted the staff and counselors were at making sure that he was able to enjoy every single activity. We quickly realized that although Shamus had been away from us, his immediate family, for a week, he was embraced and surrounded by the love of his Double H family.
As we pulled back into our driveway, exhausted after hearing Shamus recount his week, he asked “How many months until we can go back for skiing?” As the years have passed, the two seasons of fun at Double H help Shamus to transition from one to the next. He never likes to have skiing or summer camp end, but knowing that the other is “just around the corner” gives him something joyful to look forward to, a place where he is welcomed, a place where he is loved, a place where he is included….another season of happiness at Double H Ranch.
By Shaun E., Camper parent
>>Thank you Shaun for sharing Shamus’s love for camp. Stay tuned for Part 2, a parent’s perspective of sibling camp! Double H Ranch programs are designed to provide camp experiences that are memorable, empowering, physically safe and medically sound. Our program staff and counselors work to ensure all activities and events are inclusive for all children. Click or tap here to learn more about our summer camp program and camper eligibility.