Cheers from below encouraged 16-year-old Frances Nye as she moved up a massive climbing wall Friday.
It was a first for Nye, who didn’t use her legs to climb, but was hoisted up the wall face by counselors, who were at one point almost 30 feet below.
As she was lowered back down to her wheelchair, Nye’s smile was uncontained.
“I did it!” she exclaimed, just before receiving a fist bump from camp director Rene Van Hoorn.
Those little moments of triumph have packed this last week at UCSB, where 40 youths have taken part in the Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp. Noozhawk caught them Friday, having a blast at the end of their weeklong camp.
While the campers, ranging in age from 6 to 19, all have varying use of their legs, and a range of physical conditions such as spina bifida and cerebral palsy, they all use wheelchairs to participate in sports for the week.
The camp is sponsored by the Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital and the Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, and is supported by individuals, businesses and organizations in the community.
UCSB donates the space for the camp, and campers got to enjoy the university’s impressive facilities.
Best of all, the camp is free to campers, who are even given free transportation from Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Santa Maria and Oxnard.
Kids participated in more traditional sports such as basketball, tennis and volleyball, while taking on impressive feats including scuba diving, kayaking and swimming in UCSB’s pool.
Van Hoorn said that 51 weeks out of the year, many of the youths the camp targets sit on the sidelines while their peers play sports.
“This week, it’s all about them,” Van Hoorn said as teenagers played wheelchair rugby just yards away.
Volunteer coordinator Leslie Lannan gave Noozhawk a look at all the camp has worked to do for the children over the past week. The camp boasts some impressive volunteers, with more than 60 coming together to help kids, as well as five staff members from Cottage Rehabilitation.
John Moores, 9, took a break from the action of playing wheelchair basketball to talk about what the camp has meant to him. He, too, said the climbing wall was his favorite.
A day before, as camp volunteers put Moores into the harness and begin hoisting him up the wall, fear struck.
“It was kind of scary at first,” he said.
But a few more pulls from the counselors, and Moores was almost to the top of the 30-foot wall.
“Did you feel free?” Lannan asked him.
He nodded, answering yes, before rejoining the kids playing nearby.
For counselor Brian Rathfelder, the best part is “watching their faces light up.”
Rathfelder, who has been a counselor at the camp for four years and also uses a wheelchair, recalled watching the children make their way up the rock wall — a moving experience for everyone involved.
“Watching them break their own personal barriers has been amazing,” he said. “It just reminds you we all have to live life to the fullest.”