SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp kicked off the week-long summer camp Monday morning.
“We call it the best week ever,” said Rene Vanhoorn, the camp director.
The sports camp takes place at the UCSB Recreation Center. Over 33 years, it has been a camp to teach sports and life skills to kids in wheelchairs between 6 and 19 years old.
“We do basketball, rugby, racquetball, swimming, pickle ball, tennis, and more,” said Vanhoorn.
“Handcyclling is my favorite,” said 14-year-old Elena Pompous. “I love it so much.”
Pompous is a veteran camper. The Ventura native started when she was just 7 years old.
“It really has been eye-opening, because it showed me that I can live my life just like everyone else,” said Pompous. “It has really taught me how to adapt, not just in sports but in multiple ways.”
This year, 43 campers and 70 volunteers are taking part. Counselors and instructors are also in wheelchairs. People just like Toodie Perry from Bakersfield who's been a counselor the past 32 years.
“Knowing that we have adults in chairs we can share what our life experiences with the kids and hopefully it will make their life a little bit easier,” said Perry.
“Every camper that comes is completely free,” said Vanhoorn. “We provide transportation from throughout the Tri-Counties and they get free lunch every day.”
That's made possible by the Cottage Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation. So kids from all over can return year after year to a camp that turns the impossible into possible.
“We focus mostly in the Tri-Counties because it is easier for them to get here, but we have kids here from as far as Oregon, Morro Bay, and a lot of kids from the Bakersfield area,” said Vanhoorn.
“I look forward to it every year and when I can’t do it I am so bummed,” said Pompous. “I think even after I am done being a camper I think I will probably go on to be either a volunteer for a counselor.”