Crippled at Camp: A Love(?) Story

The first time I was wounded at summer camp, I was eleven years old. It was my fault, of course. I was on a sailboat with a couple of other kids, being as obnoxious as you might expect a kid on a sailboat to be, when the swinging boom whacked me full-force on the side of the head.

I don’t remember this event very well, probably as a result of minor head trauma and major embarrassment. I do recall a very panicked teenager who scooped me up in her arms and sprinted to the infirmary. And that the nurse gave me three blue freeze pops while I waited to see if I was going to die.

The summer I was fourteen, I came down with a disgusting stomach flu the night before we were going on an awesome overnight trip. I spent two days in the infirmary that time, watching really terrible movies on a very small TV instead of making s’mores in the woods with my friends. I secretly hoped someone else would get the flu so I would at least have some company. It didn’t work out.

My luck only worsened once I started working there. When I was sixteen and training to be a counselor, I wound up with head lice and a staph infection that had pretty much eroded my flesh from the knees down. When I was seventeen, I got stung by an entire hive of bees. And at nineteen I spent too long standing on the hot sand during lifeguard training and suffered from massive, horrible second-degree burns on the bottoms of my feet. Alright, that one wasn’t all bad; it did necessitate my supervisor literally carrying me wherever I needed to go, which amused the campers a great deal and made me feel like a princess.

In 2012, when I was finally on the leadership staff, I shared this story with my coworkers. We were gathered inside one of the boys senior end tents late at night, watching the candlelight dance on the canvas flaps and talking about what camp meant to us. Our stories were supposed to be meaningful. Mine was about getting maimed.

But they understood what I meant. My story was about strange and improbable injuries, sure, but it was also about deciding that getting hurt wasn’t enough to keep me from going back to camp summer after summer. It was about the knowledge that no matter how tough it got, no matter how many legitimate reasons I had to run away, it was always worth it to stay.

That summer, 2012, had its own share of misfortunes. During the three months I was there, I was caught in a violent downward spiral of anorexia that wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. And it took me so long to recover from that nosedive that I couldn’t even consider the possibility of going back in 2013.

Three weeks ago, I submitted an application. Today, I called the camp office for an interview.Β Even after the personal hell I experienced a year and a half ago, I’m going back.

My parents are baffled. And worried. A lot of people are worried. You know what? I’m worried, too. But every year that I’ve been knocked down, I’ve come back stronger. I’m a champion for a cause I love more than anything. Something about it will always be tough, and I might not always come out on top. But as we who have worked there know, it is always, always worth it to stay.



  1. Alright! That’s awesome. It’s exactly what I was thinking about you as I read all your camp stories…”and she kept going back!”.
    All the best for this year’s camp staff thingie!! Let us know how it went…because you and and we know that like you said…you are stronger each time πŸ™‚

  2. Go get em Gwen, you will be an inspiration to the kids that attend each year, what a beautiful gift to give those children (and hopefully less traumas?)

  3. I know you focused on the bad things, so I’m having a hard time imagining why you are going back. I understand not backing down, but I’d love to read about some of your good times at camp, too.
    I hope this summer is completely, utterly, without a doubt uneventful. And I hope you love every minute of it.

  4. You got three blue freeze pops, Lucky you πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜› By the way what is a stomach flu ? Plus I would Love to know how did you removed your head Lice πŸ˜›
    I felt heart broken to know about your bad health…And I am worried too along with all other people. I know you are stronger than ever if you say so but still, Take lots of Care !! Love you loads xx

  5. I’m jealous, honestly. I would have loved to have gone to summer camp even if I was injured in the process.I always wanted to go but never was able to. And good for you for being persistent and heart-lead.

  6. Gwen, excuse me for saying this, but you’re a poster child for what to be aware of at camp. What a painful experience you recount. I am sure everyone wonders about your sanity at wanting to return.

  7. I suspect that you have a lot more good memories of camp than bad ones, and that the bad times are just a coincidence. I think it’s great that you are going back to make some new memories!

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