In movies, summer camps always appear to be the highlight of the season. Exciting experiences, unforgettable memories, and lasting friendships are made. I never really thought that I'd get to experience one, but this past summer, I did! I received an invitation to US Rowing's ODP Youth Development Camp, as did one of my teammates, and in June, we went to Chattanooga, TN for a time that we'll never forget!
The camp would last from June 11th to 24th and we'd work to improve our rowing skills. We'd stay in the dorms of the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga and row at the "McCallie Boathouse." On the afternoon of the 11th, my Mami took me to the dorms where we got me settled in before having dinner together at Chipotle.
Then, after having dinner, she brought me back to the dorms and dropped me off. That's when my camp experience started; with a quick orientation to get it going first!
At orientation, we were told what to expect in the coming weeks.
We'd row once or twice a day, with some land workouts as well. We'd have breakfast and lunch at the boathouse, and then dinner at the McCallie school cafeteria. We'd be separated into two groups, as well as into teams within those groups. On Sunday, we'd also go on a tubing trip all together, with a "Summer Cup" at the end.
There were, of course, some rules that we were given. Things such as no wandering off or doing dumb things. And aside from all that, we were also told not to open the bathroom door too quickly after a hot shower, as the steam might set off the fire alarm. Guess what I was afraid to accidentally do the whole time!
After that first meeting, I went back to my room where I met my roommates. There were four of us sharing the same room; me, my teammate from Row Huntsville, and two girls from Washington. I was thrilled that they were all really friendly and we got together great!
I honestly had an amazing time with them! We would hang out together whenever possible, watch Lockwood & Co and Stranger Things on a laptop, and would always spend our time off together!
On the second night of camp there was an "ice cream meet and greet," so we went downstairs to the activity room to get some ice cream (a popsicle for me!). When we were done there was still extra so we were told that we could have some. I was just about to go grab some more popsicles when one of my roommates walked up to our table with an old grocery bag full of them; she got them for all of us! Great minds think alike!
So, when we got back to our room, we put them in the freezer and had frozen treats for a while after that!
Anyways, the first day of practice was pretty tough. We had to wake up around six or seven, got on the bus, and drove over to the boathouse. It was about a ten-minute drive, but I actually like riding on the bus!
I don't have as many pictures from the camp as I'd like, and it's been a while, so I don't remember every detail clearly either, but what I'll never forget is how much I loved this camp!
Tough yet rewarding practices! Hard rows out on the river. Challenging workouts on land. Fun relay races.
Even the parts that weren't so fun in the moment make for some great stories and memories that I can laugh about now!
At the time, I didn't know anything about the Hunger Games, but my friend compared the camp to just that, and now that I've seen the movies, I agree.
Breakfast and lunch especially so! Every time it was a battle to claim a table and be the first in line. After one land practice in particular, we were dismissed, and everyone went to gather their items. I'm not sure how many of us remembered that lunch was the next thing on the itinerary, but I did. I didn't want to get stuck being the last in line. Or worse, not being able to find a seat at a table. So, I walked casually towards the door, trying not to tip anyone off to the fact that it was time to eat. When I was close to the door of the boathouse, some other people must have realized that too, as we were all suddenly part of a giant stampede rushing up the stairs and to the room where we typically ate. It was chaotic! All of us running into the building, racing up the stairs, pushing and shoving, throwing their things at chairs in order to claim them, and then grabbing a plate and securing a place in line. Fortunately for me, I ended up with a table, a good place at the front of the line, and did not have to participate in the pushing and shoving that took place farther towards the back.
Dinner was at the McCallie school cafeteria, so fortunately that wasn't an issue there! There was plenty of space for all of us!
There were also the unexpected group texts telling us to go downstairs at unexpected times.
Sometimes they'd tell us that we had an hour to rest in our rooms, then a few minutes later we'd receive a text telling us to get downstairs immediately or the bus would leave without us! It got kind of problematic when we'd get these texts when we'd started something, like taking a shower!
We were also told that on the 14th there would be a group activity. I heard rumors that it would be us going bowling, but instead, it turned out being a trip to downtown Chattanooga.
My roommate and I got on the bus, and we drove for a few minutes to the baseball stadium. When we got there, the coaches gave us a few instructions and let us out.
I guess I had the wrong idea of what the trip to downtown Chattanooga was going to be like. I guess I thought we'd all stay together as a group with some adults and visit a few popular locations. Emphasis on the "with adults" part.
Nope. We stopped near the baseball stadium and were told to stick to the buddy system and be back at that area by 8pm. It was a little after 6:30 when we got off the bus, so essentially, they were just letting us teens roam around the city for an hour and a half as long as we stayed in pairs. I'm sure it isn't uncommon, but for me this was really new!
My roommates and I decided to explore together. First, we went to the riverfront and walked around there for a bit. It's the same venue as the Head of the Hooch, one of the fall regattas that I compete at, so it was funny to see the comparison of it being super busy versus completely empty!
And our little exploration brought us to a nice fountain where we got to wade around for a bit! I've been to Chattanooga a few time before, but I never knew that this was there!
Being in downtown Chattanooga and having spent a while without ice cream, of course I was tempted to go and get some! There was an ice cream place across the bridge, but time was limited, and I didn't want to risk getting to the bus late! Two of my roommates were okay with risking it, but my friend and I decided to play it safe and instead went to the Ben & Jerry's on our side of the river.
I had some vegan cookie dough ice cream, and I'm not sure what I was thinking! Yes, it was delicious, but it cost nearly $10! I gave them a ten-dollar bill and they gave me just a few coins. The pints cost the same amount there, but for some reason, I decided to get a few scoops instead!
At least I learned an important lesson that day; I really need to work on my money management skills!
Everything was going great, until people started to get sick. The camp had about 150 of us living close together and training really hard, so it's not a big surprise that at some point this started to happen. On the first day I think that I heard someone with a cough, and during the first week it spread to me and my teammate!
By the time that the Sunday tubing excursion came around, I still had a stuffy nose, but I still wanted to participate. Besides, the trip was mandatory. And a tubing trip sounded nice and relaxing. Fresh air, calmly floating down a gentle river.
I guess that I never knew exactly what to expect with these activities. I always had the general idea right, but it was always a slightly more dangerous version of it...
It wasn't a relaxing tubing trip on the river like I thought it would be. The fact that I had to sign a waiver that read "the risk of injury from the activities involved in this program is significant, including the potential for permanent paralysis and death" should have tipped me off.
After a morning rowing practice, we went to our rooms to get ready, then hopped on the bus for an hour drive to the Hiwassee River. When we got there, we put on some life jackets and hopped onto another bus that brought us to the start of the river where we'd be tubing. We each grabbed one and barely any safety instructions other than "stay in pairs" and "left after the rapids" we got into the water and floated downstream.
The "rapids" part surprised me, considering there were no guides, we had no helmets on, and we were all spread out across the river with the coaches all grouped together where they wouldn't be able to see all of us.
At one point the river forked and we had to stay left. Me and my teammate did so, but we all saw a group of three girls accidentally go towards the wrong side. We were all shouting, trying to get their attention and keep them from floating away. The coaches were doing this too, but to no success. They got separated from the group, and I honestly heard one of the coaches say, "oh well, we tried" and then continue on with his conversation and did not look worried at all! At the end of the trip, they made their way back to the outfitter area; 3 girls, two tubes. May I remind you that they went out with a tube each? Apparently, they were chased by a snake and one of them jumped into her friend's tube.
Oh, and remember how I said, "left after the rapids"? Yes, there were rapids and water moccasins on this river, and we had virtually nothing to protect us. We learned very quickly that if we got too comfortable during the rapids, our butts would scrape the rocks beneath us and that hurt! So, the motto of the day became "butts up!"
There were a lot of rapids that we came across, with some that we pretty high up for the lack of equipment that they gave us. In a raft it would have been appropriate, but not in an individual tube!
Regardless, it's a pretty exciting and memorable experience! When we were done, we came back to shore, dried off, and went back to the bus. I decided to take some pictures and take a look at the gift shop. I saw these stuffed animals that I liked, so I bought one for myself and one for my little sister.
The rest of the camp went pretty well. There were a lot of hard workouts, fun nights with my friends watching Netflix, a half-marathon relay on the erg when it was storming, and relay competitions in the rain!
Then, on the last day, there was the Summer Cup. The entire camp was leading up to it and I got to race in a quad and an eight!
Mami came to watch me compete, and in both events, there were four boats competing...
...and in both events, I placed second!
It was followed by an awards ceremony, so I managed to get two new rowing medals!
And as I mentioned, we were divided into teams. There were five teams, mine being the pink team, or the "Barbies." It was a really great group!
But after the race, we had to wash the boats! In other words, some people washed the boats and most of us sat around and waited. There weren't enough sponges or towels for everyone to help out.
And at the end of the day, there was a party at the "McCallie Lake" to celebrate the end of the camp! I had an amazing time hanging out with my new friends! There was this tower in the middle of the pool where I jumped off (regretted it halfway down...it was pretty tall and I landed wrong) once and rid the slide a few times. It was super fun!
The party mostly involved a barbeque dinner (A tasty Beyond burger for me!) and fun in the pool! Then there was of course the results of the Summer Cup; I don't remember what team won but I'm pretty sure my team got fifth place. It doesn't sound too bad until I mention that there were five teams.
And after the party, it was back to the dorms to finish packing, enjoying the last few minutes, and going to bed before coming home early the next day! Camp had been an amazing experience that I loved, but I loved coming home and missed Mami, so it was great getting to be with her again!