The first time I went to sleepaway camp, I was seven years old, a petite, baby-faced doll — used to being called out for being on the short end. Unable to detach from my stuffed animal Winnie The Pooh bear which I slept with every night since I was a baby, it came along with me for the first of many summers spent at Camp Louise, a Jewish all-girls camp in Cascade, Maryland — in the mountains of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border — hours from where I grew up in Northern Virginia.
While I was at Camp Louise, situated right next to Camp David, my older brother was not too far away at the all-boys camp, Camp Airy—both camps have existed since 1932. My mother and her mother attended Camp Louise, so when it came time for my first summer, I was a little nervous to so far from home, having only done been away from home at sleepovers at friends’ houses prior to this and nothing so grand or so far away as a camping experience.
I started out at the minimum stay of two weeks, while my brother, at the boy’s camp, was already staying a month at a time and then even the full-length of the session. Seeing my brother at field trips or dances where both camps got to mingle with one another made the experience feel even more like home.
Eventually, I started to warm up to camp. In between writing letters home when I got homesick, I was enjoying all that camp had to offer. There was cooking, arts, swimming, sports and much more. Soon enough, mail day would come, and we would all sit on our cots in the bunk and my eyes lit up on the day a large cardboard care package emblazoned with stickers would arrive for me.
After that first summer, I started to fear being away from home less and opened myself up to the experiences that came with camp. I was ecstatic when school ended each year and summertime rolled around, meaning I could go to camp again. A few summers later, one of my best camp experiences came on the water.
Opportunities for Fun
Leading up to the summer of 2009, I was more than ready to tackle another great year of camp. My mother and I sat at the kitchen table and fanned through the camp’s pamphlets for the summer’s opportunities for fun. Standing at 4 foot 3 inches, I was 11 now and wanted to be like the older kids and do something fun and thrilling. My mom read out all the special activities I was old enough for and one of them struck me: white water rafting on the Potomac River. This would be the fun to thing to make my summer, I thought.
When summer rolled around and I was on the bus with a group of my fellow campers from Bunk 16, all of whom were larger, taller girls, I was slightly intimidated about not knowing them very well yet, but I was jovial — I always crack jokes when I’m nervous. After a long bus ride through scenic Maryland, we arrived at a shack off the road full of water sports equipment. In the shack was our teacher for the day who brought us out onto the open shore and explained the basics of rafting, where everyone should be positioned for equal weight distribution — including me, one of the lightest campers — and how to row in unison. After which, we got onto the raft and began rowing upstream.
When we were rowing, it was a challenge for everyone to stay in sync. I was in the back left of the raft, trying my hardest as a right-handed person not to hinder the raft further. We finally got to a decent pace, with minimal hiccups, when the instructor, who was facing us, like a coxswain on a rowing team, looked over her shoulder. “We are about to approach the rough part,” she said.
I peered ahead at the white caps with excitement. I tried to remember everything we were taught in the last hour and watched my friends, trying to row the same way. When the raft reached the quick-moving water, diverged by small rocks and larger limestone mounds where the water formed white peaks, it dipped down on the right side and up on the left, flinging me briefly into the air. I landed on a rock, my fall cushioned by the water. Everyone on the raft floated by and looked at me. “Are you okay,” someone asked. I had a slightly scratched up foot, but I felt victorious. “I’m fine,” I said. I hopped back into the rafted. “I’m actually proud I fell in,” I continued. “I knew someone was bound to fall in and I’m glad it was me. I was refreshing, too.”
The rest of that summer, in my bunk, I became known as the girl who fell in the Potomac River and was “proud” of herself. This is a moniker I’ll take any day. If it wasn’t for camp and for bringing me out of my shell at such a young age, who knew if that would’ve ever been possible?