MDA Ambassador Guest Blog: The Magic of MDA Summer Camp
By Leticia Tatum | Monday, March 20, 2023
5 Second Summary
MDA Ambassadors play an essential role in furthering MDA’s mission while representing and empowering the neuromuscular disease community. Quest Ambassador Guest Blog series provides a platform to share their personal stories, perspectives, and experience.
MDA Ambassador Leticia Tatum, 42, of Birmingham, Alabama was diagnosed with SMA at the age of two. She currently serves as the Vice President of Human Resources at Valent Group. When not busy with work, Leticia and her husband, Doug, enjoy traveling and spending time with their two dogs, Maci and Mango.
Remembering the Magic of MDA Summer Camp
When I look back at my years spent at MDA Summer Camp, it’s hard to explain to people the magic that happens one week each summer. Seriously, what’s so special about camp? Well, if you’ve been a camper or volunteered as a counselor, you know.
As a child, I can remember talking about summer plans with my classmates. We’d discuss vacations, sleeping in late, and hanging out with friends. But what I looked forward to the most, almost as much as Christmas, was MDA Summer Camp.
One week out of the year I could be ‘normal’. There was no explaining to people or other children who did not live with neuromuscular disease, what was wrong or what happened.
I’ve always used a wheelchair and like many living with muscular dystrophy being ‘different’ was a way of life. Having to adapt and understand there were certain physical activities I couldn’t do with friends was a reality that came at a very young age. But then there was camp. It was a week of tree climbing, horseback riding, camp crushes, dances, and lifelong friendships. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.
The feeling of excitement that would come over us as we’d arrive at the campgrounds was like no other. Somehow every year I’d be matched with the perfect counselor. And if you were lucky, they’d become lifelong friends like two of my counselors, Jen and Amanda. We’ve watched each other grow up and celebrated life events through the years, like getting married, having children, and so much more. And even now, when I run into camp family, I’m reminded of the special place they hold in my heart. As the soft buzzes of electric wheelchairs filled the air, I’d scan across the room looking for the faces of friends I hadn’t seen all year, anxious to catch up. We’d immediately pick up from last summer as if we’d never skipped a beat. We girls would already be discussing the dance later in the week and looking for Donnie, the cute boys’ counselor that all the girl campers swooned over.
There I was in my happy place. Anything was possible. It was magic.
I attended my first MDA Camp at age 7 and, today, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for my parents to send little “Tish” as I’m affectionately known, away for a week. But I am so thankful that they did. Attending camp each year taught me how to communicate my needs to others, try new things, and build independence.
Additionally, Summer Camp gave my parents a little vacation and an opportunity to give more time to my sisters and brother. There were four of us growing up in the house, and although my parents did a great job at ensuring I was treated no differently than my siblings, the fact was that as a child with a physical disability, I still required more. My parents could rest knowing I was safe and having fun.
There’s an unfair weight that children with muscular dystrophy have to carry: the complexities of the disease, treatments, physical therapy, and so much more. Each year MDA Summer Camp removed that weight, and I was a child. I was free. It was magic.
The moments and memories at camp shaped me into the adult I am today, and I am forever grateful. Thank you, MDA Summer Camp, for showing me I could do anything I set my mind to and that I wasn’t alone. And thank you for the lifelong friends.
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