From the ages of 8 to 18 years old I spent two weeks every summer going to camp in Collingwood, Ontario.
Blue Mountain Camp wasn't just your ordinary day camp. It was an overnight camp for physically disabled kids and run by the Easter Seals. Campers slept in cabins (about 8 to 10 campers per cabin) and each cabin had a group of counsellors, who were between the ages of 16 and 23 years old, were responsible for us. There were nurses on-site to assist with any health concerns and administer medication, but the counsellors did everything from assisting with dressing, feeding and even physically lifted campers in and out of their wheelchairs. Looking back on it, I'm shocked at how willing parents were to have a bunch of teenagers take care of their disabled children.
Most of the activities at camp were like any other traditional summer camp. We did arts & crafts, canoed, went swimming and even did an overnight trip to a local campground where we slept in tents. Even at a young age, I wasn't the biggest outdoorsy person. I loved swimming and canoeing, but the thought of sleeping in a tent, getting dirt all over me and being eaten alive by mosquitoes and blackflies was (and still is) my idea of hell on earth.
I loved my summers at Blue Mountain, but I don't think I really got very much out of it until I was 12. Prior to this age, I made one or two friends each year but when I went back home I didn't stay in touch with them. That all changed in the summer of 1996.
Enter the Walsh twins.
I met Samantha and Desirée Walsh (i.e. Sam and Des) while we were in the same cabin. On one of our first nights at camp they offered me a rice krispie square, which I happily accepted. Our initial conversation began with them asking me if anyone has ever called me Marley. I said "no." At some point during that night I said, "Sam, shine the flashlight over here" and proceeded to moon them. (Yes, I showed them my ass.) Sometime during our two-week camp session they went from calling me Marley to Bob Marley the Crazy Tobacco Farmer (which was just weird) and eventually shortened that to Bob, which they still call me almost 25 years later.
What made Sam and Des different from other campers is that they didn't give a flying f**k what people thought of them and they were able to get me out of my shell. Before I met them, I was incredibly shy and they were able to bring out a weird, loud side of me that only my family and a few close friends saw. The three of us bonded because we didn't seem to fit into the disabled kid mold. When we were around each other we pushed the boundaries of what was considered "camp appropriate" (i.e. the twins calling me a pimp), but we didn't care.
Since I lived in Brampton and they lived more than an hour away in Waterloo, my communication with the twins outside of camp was limited to occasional phone calls, snail mail (they always sent the best cards), a few visits they made to Brampton and a regrettable sports camp experience. We continued to go to camp together until we were 16 when Sam and Des decided to join the L.I.T. (Leaders in Training) program at Blue Mountain, which happened to be during the same session I attended that year.
After we stopped attending camp, Sam, Des and I continued to communicate once in a while with each other via MSN Messenger and email. Once we were all in post-secondary school our communication became much less frequent.
When I joined Facebook in 2006 Sam and Des were two of the first people I added. It was during this time that I found out that the twins and I had all moved to Toronto at around the same time, so of course we had to reconnect. For the first time in a decade all three of us lived in the same city and Des even moved into the apartment building next door to me.
For someone who admittedly has a hard time relating to other disabled people, attending Blue Mountain Easter Seals Camp was essential in my social development. It was the only time I was around other disabled kids and had I not gone to camp I would have never met the twins - two people I credit for helping me become the person I am today. I'm incredibly grateful for my time at Blue Mountain Camp because I got lifelong friends from that experience.