The courage flag is flying
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Alesha Anderson let her fish and her camp counselor off the hook.Roundup River Ranch opened for its second summer this week and Anderson caught a trout for one of the first times in her young life. The camp has this really cool rule; if a kid catches a fish, they can make their camp counselor kiss it – a kiss-and-release program.Alesha put her trout back in the pond and didn’t make her counselor kiss it. Both were grateful.Ruben Sanchez is a sixth-grader and Anderson is a third-grader at the Kunsberg School, a school for seriously ill children associated with National Jewish Health in Denver. He and Anderson like school, but they like camp better.”It’s really fun here,” Alesha said. “We dance after every meal, we’re very active. Everything about camp is fun.”This is Ruben’s second trip to Roundup River Ranch. He’d just finished a horseback ride on M&M, and remembered that he rode Jackie last year. Some things you don’t forget. In archery you shoot arrows at playing cards; hit the card and you keep it. The six of hearts is going home with him.”I want to come back here,” Sanchez said.Roots run deepRoundup River Ranch is rooted in SeriousFun Children’s Network founder Paul Newman’s idea that children with serious illnesses deserve a chance to kick back and be kids. On Thursday afternoon, the kids looked fine.”They look normal, and isn’t that what we’re working for?” said Ruth Johnson, Roundup River Ranch CEO. “We don’t want their illness to define them while they’re at camp.”The Eagle County Historical Society was there talking about Colorado history, which is pretty colorful and loaded with cowboys and Indians, miners, ministers and ne’er-do-wells. Sitting on a huge map of Colorado, the historians did not try to tell the campers that chuck wagons were named for a cowboy named Chuck, or that barbed wire was named for a dancehall floozy named Barb – because they weren’t.Volunteers from the Keystone Science Center ran the nature and discovery sessions. Among other things, they discovered that if one girl drapes a fox pelt over another girl’s head, girls squeal and jump out of their chairs – which is worth discovering.Challenge by choiceThe kids decide their degree of difficulty on the challenge course and most other activities and, not surprisingly, they almost always choose to go tougher.The zipline feels like you’re careening at the speed of light, just like it’s supposed to. There’s a high ropes course, a three-story climbing wall, rappelling. You can either climb down or jump off the high wire and trust your counselor to lower you safely to terra firma – they always do.One ingenious lad was thinking up ways to take one of the horses back home to downtown Denver, where he’d keep it in his bedroom.”Can we stay here forever?” he asked.Kids with different illnesses are grouped in separate sessions, so the camp can coordinate medical volunteers, Johnson said.This week it’s the Kunsberg School.”National Jewish has always had a school on its grounds, all the way back to handling tuberculosis patients,” said Michelle Freas with the Kunsberg School.Tuberculosis at Kunsberg has been replaced by sickle cell anemia, asthma, cardiac conditions, immune deficiencies … the list goes on and on.”Our goal is to make them as normal as possible,” Freas said.The Kunsberg campers felt better than normal Thursday when they painted Freas’s face when they were supposed to be painting rocks. One of the painters was a kid who’d just spent six weeks in a hospital. His first day out was at Roundup River Ranch this week.”It really is about the kids,” Johnson said.And there are lots of kids. Six cabins house a dozen campers and six adults. Stroll into a cabin and the beds are made, everything is neatly put away and arranged including the oxygen machines beside several beds.Defibrillators are everywhere. Doctors and nurses staff the camp. The medical center looks like a huge ranch house.Volunteers, campers still neededThey need volunteers and a few more campers for the rest of the summer. Sessions last about a week and they need 30 volunteers per session. They’ll teach you everything you need to know.”You have to be 19 years old. Other than that, we’ll help you,” said Monica Morrey, the camp’s volunteer coordinator.Volunteers tell other people who they think would make a good volunteer, or would-be campers, or foundations that could support the ranch. And the word spreads.Cowboy Catering is doing the food this week, no small task for 100 people, about half of whom have food allergies severe enough to kill them.Dozens of local builders donated time, money, materials and expertise to the camp. Adrian Brink and A.J. Brink Outfitters provide the horses, tack and wranglers for what proved most of these kids’ first horseback rides.The local Trout Unlimited chapter is out there every day, teaching kids to fish.”The people of the Vail Valley came together to support us and make this possible,” Johnson said. “We cannot thank them enough.”Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.