This was my second year as wrestling coach at the NubAbility Athletics summer camp in Du Quoin, Ilinois. If you've read the heart-warming events of 'Can You Teach Me How To Wrestle?' about last year's camp over at YourMMA.co.uk, you'll know just how precious the week of camp can be. I've said previously that after last year, I didn't think much would surprise and yet again, how could I be so wrong?
The most amazing facet of camp is the sheer ignorance of the campers. How children blindly accept each others' peculiar differences in a single second, knowing almost instantaneously that the campers in their group who've travelled from all around the country - and for the first time globally, as a family from this side of the pond made the journey - have experienced many of the same battles while ultimately conquering them. They may not have somebody back home to replicate their limb-difference, but for the next couple of days they sure as hell make up for the lost time.
For a lot of the children, they have naturally not known any different. They've continued to move forward through strong parenting, positive surroundings and have been accepted by classmates and neighbourhood friends, however they definitely look forward to camp every year that much more. When you look at it from the outside, it's a strange circle. One you feel shouldn't be looked at too intricately, but one you cannot help admire nonetheless.
This year, wrestling had really taken off as our coaching team took in two more members and our student numbers improved greatly as well as below-the-knee amputee and BJJ blue belt Neil Brown implementing his Bully-Proof program which was an absolute hit with parents and went down a treat. Keeping it fun, educational and worthwhile for the parents brought with it an entitled trust as well allowing the parents to open up with their worries.
Camp was a resounding success for us all and year after year it becomes harder to leave, especially since this year round as I was no longer the newbie. I was comfortable, therefore connections became stronger and bonds were worked on through coach volleyball, football as well as the evening hangouts. It was like there hadn't been any time gap whatsoever - never mind a year!
As for the aforementioned part of me being wrong yet again, I had my own special moment at camp this year. On the Saturday, day two of NubAbility, for the first time ever, I met children with the same hand condition as I; clubbed hand/vacterl syndrome. Almost immediately, I was struck with an array of emotions. Amongst all these children running around I'd failed to spot any quite like myself.
So, when Jana Kuhnert (co-founder of NubAbility) called all the coaches into the school gym, onto the basketball court and had the coaches find children like them, I was completely lost. What made it so emotional from my perspective is that the children, along with parents, found me. I heard a “Hey!” from one parent, a tap on the leg immediately after and there I found myself, stricken with surprise as these children were just like me!
I now had that same feeling all the other children had had before me when finding a significant buddy. We began introducing ourselves to one another before learning of each others' stories and trading advice. I won't put up a false bravado in saying it wasn't emotional, because it sure was. A parent even teared up afterwards and I'm sure it wasn't just me controlling their breathing. For once, everything was familiar and that's something I'd never felt before.
What meant most to me was how open they all were with their questions. I've never been one to serve advice, but I think I'm qualified in this area, right? Giving them advice regarding what I had been through and just how their kids will be just fine looked to give them a sense of reassurance and that feeling brought so much happiness to our circle of discussion. Throughout all of this, I was still blown away by the position I was in and I couldn't do anything but be grateful. That'll be a time I'll always cherish. I know I have made connections with those families and many more for as long as I'm around this special community.
I always come away from NubAbility with new friendships, stories and unforgettable moments. I said it last year, but once you walk through those school doors on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, nothing else in the world matters. There is this surrounding aura about it. Like a bubble, providing nothing but the utmost positivity. It's so bright in fact that it's hard to manifest in writing. Everything is about fun whilst making those kids see that even though they might have to work a little harder, they can still go above and beyond the non-limb different kids. You may have to go two-hundred percent just to keep up with their one-hundred percent, but if that's what you have to do, you do it and fortunately, many are aware of this.
In the UK, we look at limb-difference differently. Not that we look down upon it, because that's far from true. However, we're an awkward bunch. We keep ourselves to ourselves, tackle difficult issues in a struggling manner and the mission here behind DIA strives to change that.
Limb-different children are among the most inspiring, tear-jerking little guys I've ever met and they will always help you remain humble. I travel along way for this camp every year and not once have I gave this journey a second-thought. The nerves of failing to help a child will always be there. That much is natural because you never know what to expect at such a special gathering, but NubAbility remains to be something unlike anything I have been involved with before.