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Chariot This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Parkland, FL

Bolt, lock washer, washer, wood, washer, wingnut.

I have been elected Master Builder. I have one minute to view the assembled chariot and memorize the building combinations. As the field house floods with family and excited junior campers, my team huddles at the start. “Charioteers take your mark.” The gun blasts, and I sprint to pick up the wheels and the windshield. My teammates gather the remaining pieces, and it is time to build. The crowd roars as I jam the long bar into the T- bar. As soon as the chariot is constructed, the wingnuts tightened, we race into the night: one charioteer pulled by six horse-like runners. The race is neck and neck as we strain around the torch-lit track. At the last moment, we pull ahead and cross the line first.

Camp Kweebec in Schwenksville, PA has provided me with lasting memories: stargazing, horseback riding, midnight potato sack racing, and unclogging a toilet only to create a shower in the camp office. But there is nothing more rewarding than winning the Chariot Race. Since I was a little girl, pushed to the back, angling to see, I longed to be a charioteer. As I moved up, bunk by bunk, I inched my way to the front.

Band-Aid, EpiPen, juice box, sling, juice box, blood sugar monitor.

After nine years, I became a counselor this summer.  I didn’t know what to expect when the munchkins assigned to Bunk Buffalo came charging off the bus. They resembled the disorderly team from the Bad News Bears. I was suddenly responsible for 18 campers with diverse backgrounds and distinct needs: three diabetics, one child with Aspergers, two campers deathly allergic to nuts, a child coping with divorce, Chinese campers who barely spoke English, and a Star Wars obsessed girl who spoke like R2-D2. I was surprised to see my ten- year-old charges immediately form cliques. I mediated candy wars, hot water wars, and under-the-bunk space wars. I comforted children that felt excluded and faced a “building” challenge more complex than the chariot. How could I make these seemingly incompatible pieces fit together?

It seemed an impossible task, but I knew there was common ground: enchanted Camp Kweebec. My co-counselors and I marched the girls out to the field at midnight in their Pjs. We split them into teams, pairing girls that didn’t get along. The groaning began. Makayla couldn’t work with Ilana; Ilana wouldn’t work with Makayla. But when the races began, they forgot their differences.  The girls transformed before my eyes. When Ilana tripped during the three-legged race, Makayla gave her a hand. Jaime, normally on the sideline, laughed and cheered on her team. Natalie, who has Asperger’s, excelled in the wheelbarrow race and emerged a leader. The girls smiled endlessly under the magical moonlight.

The next day, my girls wrote on their campshirts, “there is no wifi but our connection is great!” As I doled out medication, administered insulin pumps and charted blood sugar levels I enjoyed the new dynamic.  At camp you’re safe from the judgement of the outside world. Through shared experiences, the girls learned to love and accept their summer sisters. I am proud of the way I brought my band of misfits together. At the same time, I confirmed I want a career in the health fields. I discovered I not only have a talent for working with children but overseeing their medical needs. Giving back to these girls was infinitely more satisfying than winning the chariot race.  It is not only the big things you remember; the small moments that make you laugh till your cheeks hurt create bonds that last a lifetime.

Time is what brings us to camp and what takes it away, so cherish your time there. Never be afraid to try something new. One jump in the lake, one goal on the crest, or one epipen, can change you forever.

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