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The Chair MAG
They have arrived. One by one, the shiny yellow buses enter the parking lot, the heat radiating from their aluminum shells. They are packed with kids of all ages looking forward to an awesome five weeks of summer camp. As Bus 40 pulls in, I take a second glance at my sheet and walk over to pick up my camper. Today is my first day and butterflies are flying like crazy in my stomach. You see, this is not your ordinary summer camp. This is a camp for kids with special needs.
As I stare up at the bus I see her exit the wide, yellow door and roll onto the wheelchair lift.
"Hi, are you my counselor?" she asks in a high-pitched, nine-year-old voice.
"My name’s Matt," I reply. "Are you Nicole?" "That’s me!" A bright smile darts across her face. I don’t think I need to reassure her that she’s going to have an awesome time.
"Then I’m your counselor. Do you want me to push you over to our group?" "No, I can handle it," she tells me as she flies over to see a friend from last year. It’s now clear what our group leader meant about Nicole not letting her wheelchair slow her down.
After what seems an eternal round of the name game, we finally head to the beach. On the way, Nicole and I get to know each other a little better and end up talking about one of the greatest inventions of mankind, the roller coaster. She tells me that she’s a huge fan and because of her wheelchair, she never has to wait in line.
"Being in a wheelchair isn’t as bad as you may think," she explains. "You can fly down ramps and when you feel lazy, you can let someone push you."
The bus finally screeches to a halt at the beach and the kids make a mad dash for the water. The other counselors and I chuckle, watching their mad frenzy for that mucky brown water that feels only a few degrees above freezing. We step back to watch the excitement and I notice Nicole leading the pack. Nervous (since it is my first day), I watch her every move while she speeds toward the water’s edge.
Should I stop her? No, I’m sure she’s okay, I think. But what if she can’t stop in time?
With each passing second, she gets closer to impending doom while soaring over the pavement. Each concrete section of sidewalk flies beneath her shiny black wheelchair. She gets closer and closer to the water. Ten ... nine ... there’s only about eight feet until the treacherous water. The shark attack tune from "Jaws" is playing in my head while I contemplate stopping her. The sidewalk ends but she continues to roll over the hard-packed sand.
"Nicole! Watch out!" I finally cry.
Responding to my nervousness, the other counselors start to giggle. That’s when I look at Nicole and feel like a total idiot. Instead of crashing into the water as I expected, she had parked her chair by the edge, crawled out and was playing with her friends at the edge.
Wow. How stupid am I? I couldn’t believe how I had stereotyped Nicole because she happened to be in a wheelchair. I have always been told - and have told others - not to judge people, and yet here I was, doing exactly that. I look at Nicole again and she’s put on a life jacket and is playing "Marco Polo." The other counselors go into the water so I join them. We find ourselves bombarded with kids dumping buckets of water over us. Each and every kid is trying to jump on our backs and dunk us. It seems like they all, despite any problems life has thrown at them, are having an awesome time and just threw away all their worries.
Eventually, we get out of the lake and I stand on the beach to dry off. Out of nowhere someone squirts another counselor and me in the back followed by a very distinct giggle. We turn to see Nicole with a squirt gun in her hand and a priceless grin on her face.