The best thing about coming to camp, asserts 20-year-old Sarah Lohmeyer, is the dance.
Lots of young people probably ho-hum the concept of a dance. But because she has muscular dystrophy, Lohmeyer has used a wheelchair for years, and dances haven't always been a big part of her youth.That's just one thing that's special about the weeklong Muscular Dystrophy Association summer camp.
On opening day, which kicked off with a picnic and carnival at Sugarhouse Park, Ryan Berube and his good friend Tyler Crittenden, both 17, are having a great time just hanging out. Berube, of North Ogden, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He's been coming to the camp for nine years. Crittenden has come along, for the first time, as his "buddy."
All of the 120 campers have muscular dystrophy; all are accompanied by a personal volunteer who spends the entire six days and helps out with personal care as needed.
"This is fun. There's always a good spirit here, and everyone is friends and kind to each other," Berube said. "This is a place where you can act like yourself."
The youths come to the camp from across the state. At night, they're all staying at the Hilton Hotel, where they have arts and crafts, swimming, fishing, boat rides and magic shows, said association director Shelly Winstead. During the day, they're taking field trips to places like a Buzz game, the Fun Dome, Tracy Aviary, Wheeler Farm and Hogle Zoo.
The camp, sponsored by the MDA and corporate contributors, costs the children and their families nothing. It's one of the most important things the agency can do for these youths, Winstead said.
"This is a chance for these kids to get together with other children with similar abilities," she added.
It's also a time-out for parents, who often spend a great deal of time taking care of their sons and daughters, added David Ricketts, camp director. "The kids get together for a week and have a great party. A lot of these kids take a lot of care at home. This really gives the parents a break."
Many of the campers come back year after year, building enduring friendships.
At the park Friday, they drifted between activities, laughing and chatting. Some lined up at the computer-game table, waiting for a chance to play Whack-A-Mole for prizes. Others headed straight to the face-painting table. A craft booth, a fishing booth, a chance to make jewelry or play golf also drew sizeable crowds.
"I've been coming here since I was 6 or 7 years old," said Lohmeyer. "It's a lot of fun being around kids who are like you and doing everything everyone else does. And it's a great chance to meet people."
One of the problems with muscular dystrophy, said Ricketts, is the feeling of isolation it can cause - particularly for those who live in small towns. "If you live in Manti, Utah, and have Duchenne muscular dystrophy, you're probably the only one in the area," he said. "It's easy to feel different."