I think at some point we’ve all had something that we’ve chosen not to do because we feared we were somehow physically or mentally unable to do it. This happens a lot, especially for women of size. Well, women in general, but larger women especially. We think that we’re “too big” to try canoeing or kayaking or whitewater rafting. We longingly remember our childhood love of horses while declining to try riding as an adult, for fear that our weight will hurt the horse tasked with carrying us. We fail to venture beyond the parking lot at the park for fear that we’re too out of shape to take on the trails.
I was personally forced to face those inner dialogues just 3 years ago, before I was really mentally prepared for how that would change my worldview. It was the summer of 2009, and like many people I was searching for a job after my previous position was eliminated in the declining economy. That sounds more dire than it really was, I had been a live in nanny for a family, and the parent took a pay cut to keep their job. That left the family without the resources to keep me on, and besides, the children were getting to an age where they needed to transition away from having a nanny anyway. So I had not only lost my job, but also my home. Frantically applying for anything I was remotely qualified for, I soon found myself interviewing to be a camp counselor for the Girl Scouts.
I had my doubts that I would be able to do all of the activities with the girls, but thought that my skills and expertise in other areas would allow me to trade off with more physically capable staff. Was I ever in for a surprise. Day two of training, all of the staff loaded into individual kayaks to paddle across the lake for a picnic. I approached my supervisor privately and explained my concern that I had never been able to find a life vest that fit my body without strangling me, and offered to sign a waiver and forgo wearing one. In no time flat she had me fitted into an ingenious life vest that has adjustable straps at the shoulder and sides that allowed the floatation part to fit around my torso rather than around my neck. I was shocked, but happy. I don’t doubt my swimming skills, but it’s nice to be able to participate in an activity without calling attention to yourself by needing special equipment. I quickly learned that the camp had purchased almost all of their life vests in this style so that they could accommodate all kinds of participants.
By the end of the summer I had done so many things that I had written off as not possible for me. I spent two and a half weeks on horseback with two amazing groups of campers, even riding on the beach twice, making an attempt at posting, and getting the horse up to a canter once or twice. Barb had been pestering me for years to go riding with her, but I had always begged off, afraid that I was too heavy. Regardless of what the activity was, the staff and participants at camp just assumed that I could do whatever they were doing, rather than assuming that I would need assistance, or accommodation, or a substitute.
And the amazing thing? My new-found belief in myself was contagious. Over the course of the summer, I had a small handful of campers who were dealing with crushing homesickness, or very low self esteem, or personal problems at home. In other circumstances, many of these girls would have cut their camp experience short and gone home before the end. But I was able to look them in the eye and say, “You know what, I didn’t think I could kayak. But my second day here I got in a kayak and paddled across the lake and back. If I can do that, you can make it through today. Because you’re strong, and capable, and nothing is impossible with your friends supporting you.”
It sounds cheesy to be a twenty-something and say that a summer at camp changed my life, but it did. I would not be where I am today without that experience behind me.
Now Barb and Bobby on the other hand, tell them that they can’t do something and they say “have a seat and watch me!”
- Posted in: Uncategorized