Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp returns after two-year hiatus
Dozens of enthusiastic participants turned out for the 2022 Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp, which wrapped on Friday at the UCSB Recreation Center.
The five-day camp returned in-person after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and participants were thrilled to be back together.
“I would say that especially on the first day the energy was palpable,” Rene Van Hoorn, camp director and lead recreation therapist for Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital, told the News-Press.
“The kids could only interact virtually the last two years. Our furthest camper this year came from Michigan. We were so grateful to be together in person. People were connecting and reconnecting. They are so appreciative of everything we are doing here and being together.”
The annual camp provides sports and recreation skills development for children, youth and young adults between the ages of 6 and 21 who can use a wheelchair to participate in activities. A new young adult group has recently been added for athletes up to 21 years old.
The camp had 35 attendees, which. although down from previous years. is still seen as good, considering the impact of COVID-19.
“I always say that because we are a hospital, we are the last kids on the block to open up. Every single attendee was tested three times during the week,” said Ms. Van Hoorn.
Camp activities this week ranged from beginner to advanced wheelchair sports and recreation activities, including rugby, basketball, tennis, hand cycling, swimming, scuba diving, racquetball, power soccer, climbing wall, ropes course, dodgeball, obstacle course, baseball, dance and pickleball.
Other activities included an all-camp dance, a carnival and boxing.
“For swimming, we have one-on-one instructors in the pool, who give basic individual lessons. For many, they have no access to a pool, or a home pool is not accessible,” said Ms. Van Hoorn.
She noted there are few places in town conducive to teaching people with a physical disability how to swim.
“For wall climbing, we have UCSB leads for climbing walls and a ropes course using adapted equipment, including a system of pulleys. The camper does as much as they can. The rest is done using the pulley system,” said Ms. Van Hoorn.
The Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp was founded in 1986 and is the only camp of its kind on the Central Coast. It attracts campers from the tri-counties and beyond, including Los Angeles and Bakersfield, and even Oregon. Transportation for campers is provided free of charge from Oxnard, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.
“This was the 36th annual camp including the two virtual years,” said Ms. Van Hoorn. “The camp was started by the city of Santa Barbara in 1986 with funds from the paralympics. The event was taken over in 2008 by Cottage Hospital. The cornerstone of camp is to get kids empowered to know that they can do every single sport that I just mentioned with friends and family.”
“We run the camp with about 50 volunteers. We have about 20-30 each day,” she said. “They are the backbone of the camp.
“A lot of people of all ages volunteer and have for years,” she said.
Ms. Van Hoorn also noted, “All counselors and coaches are wheelchair users.”
She said everyone who attends the camp and their families feel the positive impact of the camp.
“If there is anything I would love, it is for people to realize it doesn’t take rocket science to do what we are doing,” Ms. Van Hoorn said. “Just give them a chance. We want people to figure out what they can do, not what they can’t do. You just have to be creative like we are with any person.”