Our Junior Leaders get to spend five weeks of their final summer as campers hiking and climbing across the Northwestern United States and Canada. Last week, our JL girls dropped us a note to tell us how their trip is going, and it seems like they are having a pretty wonderful time. Here is what they had to say:
Even after only two weeks on trip, it’s clear that JL is an experience unlike any other. We’ve trekked through miles of mud and mosquitos, tripped across freezing rivers, huddled beneath trees in the pouring rain, and enjoyed every second of it.
Recently, we completed a 4-day backpacking trip in the Wind River Range. Between hiking through breathtaking mountains and staying up late laughing in our tents, there was little room to worry about anything. On trip, we can slow down and enjoy the things in life that make us smile. We eat, sleep, poop, laugh, and sing together, and the result is the closest-knit group of girls you’ll ever meet.
We’ve been together for so long that we can have conversations for hours where every sentence starts with, “Remember that time when…?” We wouldn’t dress up in crazy red, white, and blue outfits on the 4th of July and jump into the middle of the Jackson Hole parade with anyone else.
JL has allowed us to break through obstacles in a way we never thought possible. Throughout our 3 days of climbing, the words “I can’t” weren’t heard even once. Instead, we pushed past fears and felt the accomplishment of tackling a wall and reaching the top. The same is true when we hike up any tough hill, and once we’re at the top, nothing seems impossible anymore.
JL is singing in the vans, driving each other crazy, sleeping in a tent every night, laughing until our stomachs ache, not showering for 10 days at a time and being totally ok with it! JL is a two-month break from Instagram, annoying group messages, and all the drama of high school. It is a chance to grow up with the most amazing and supportive group of people, but also a rare opportunity to be crazy, ridiculous, and immature in all the best ways. As we spend our last summer together, there is no doubt in our minds that JL is the adventure of a lifetime.
The JL Girls of 2015
Today, we say goodbye to our wonderful first session campers. We can’t believe how quickly these first four weeks flew by, and we can’t put into words how much we are going to miss them. While we are so sad to see our first session campers go, we are so happy to have gotten the chance to spend time with them this summer, the chance to grow, learn, and laugh with them.
As we’ve wrapped up the session, these past few days have been a whirlwind of fun, from a midnight pizza dance party to fantastic drama and gymnastics shows to the Paul Bunyan all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae extravaganza—awarded to one cabin in each village that received the best scores for cabin cleanup each morning—to our final Fancy Dinner, where we dress up in our fanciest (i.e. silliest) attire to celebrate the end of another incredible first session.
To the campers leaving us today, we hope you think of Thunderbird throughout the rest of your summer and your school year because we will certainly be thinking of you. We hope you smile when you remember the incredible memories you’ve made here and how many more are waiting to be made when you return next summer. We cannot wait to see you here again. As the buses pulled away with all of you, camp grew a little bit quieter. We hope you know that as you read your plane letters and say your last goodbyes at the airport, we are here missing your singing and laughter filling the air.
As one of our most beloved camp songs reminds us, the end of camp is no end at all, it’s just the end of a beginning. Here at Thunderbird, this end signals the beginning of a brand new session. To our second session campers getting ready to head to camp tomorrow morning, we are so excited to see you! We hope you are ready to have the greatest summer of your lives. Your amazing counselors cannot wait to meet you, and our eight-week campers are eagerly awaiting the sounds of your buses driving down the road so they can welcome you to Thunderbird.
See you all soon!!!
One thing that I always think of when I think of camp is dance parties, the greatest dance parties in the world. There is a magic to jumping up and down while screaming out One Direction and Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus at the top of your lungs in a place where you are so comfortable in your own skin that you couldn’t care less how you sound or look or about the fact that you’re t-shirt is probably drenched in sweat.
None of that matters when the 150 other people around you are screaming just as loud and jumping just as high. None of that matters when the 150 other people around you are your favorite people in the world, people who would far prefer to dance crazy than dance cool.
Back in 2011, I wrote this about camp for Women’s Adventure Magazine:
“At these [dance] parties, a girl becomes a hero when she teases her hair and rubs dirt on her face to look like a cavewoman, when she wears mismatched sequined clothes and adds a sombrero to accent the sparkle. I have never felt more like a supermodel than the night I spent running around camp in a chicken suit. Never have more people envied me.
At camp, crazy is cool. Laughter makes anyone beautiful, and the crazier we dance together, the closer we become.”
I think as you get older at camp, all of this only becomes more important. As kids begin to grow up—faster these days than they ever did before—and face the endless school pressures of fitting in, it is things like these Thunderbird dance parties that show them just how happy they can be when they let down their guard and are being nothing but themselves.
What’s even better is that these dance parties are usually accompanied by fantastic days because they almost always occur on specialty days. A few times each summer, we hand the reigns over to a village of campers and let them plan the day. Campers get to select a theme and plan a day of meals and activities around it.
Specialty day gives campers a chance to use creativity and imagination to invent their own fun.
We have had some incredible specialty days so far this summer. At Girls Camp, the Sodbusters, our youngest village, planned Thunder the Sea, an ocean-themed day that began with an exciting row boat battle game and ended with a marvelous counselor fashion show. Each cabin was given a prop and assigned the task of dressing up their counselors in sea-themed attire. We all had so much fun watching them strut across the stage.
The Sodbusters did a great job running the day. From the moment they ran through the Homestead and Ranchero villages to wake the rest of the campers up for breakfast, their energy and enthusiasm helped make each and every activity a blast.
Boys Camp’s youngest village, Crow, told the rest of camp that their specialty day was Mustache Day, but, little did everyone else know it’d be shockingly interrupted when our assistant director, Chuckles, was kidnapped! Luckily, the boys already had their detective mustaches ready, and they spent the day searching for clues and tracking Chuckles down. The campers located him at the waterfront at the end of the day, where his captors set him free.
Then, of course, there was the 4th of July, which has become an all time favorite holiday for many of our campers and staff. Nowhere else that I have found knows how to celebrate quite like Thunderbird. No matter what country you hail from, the dance parties, talent shows, and all-camp games make it hard not to feel some good old U.S patriotism.
Over at Girls Camp, the Fourth of July is run by the Homestead village, our oldest in-camp girls. The Homesteaders planned an amazing Independence Day. In the morning, we painted our faces, dressed in red, white, and blue, feasted on waffle sticks for breakfast, and then battled it out all morning long in our annual capture the flag competition. The red team and blue team tied at the end of an energetic, fun-filled game. While no flags were captured, there were certainly a lot of laughs along the way. Later in the day we enjoyed a waterfront obstacle course, a slip ‘n slide, and other fun activities.
At Boys Camp, Independence Day is also the specialty day for the oldest campers, the Chippewa village. On the evening of July 3rd, the Boys Camp campers were assigned to either the red, white, blue, or green team. Each team came up with a chant, and they spent the morning of the 4th competing in a relay race all over camp. The race involved canoeing and fun yakking at the waterfront as well as an epic sprint to the lower ball field, where teams competed to be the first to build a fire large enough to burn a rope hanging over each fire pit. After the red team was declared the victor, the day continued with capture the flag and an all-camp swim.
On July 4th evening, Boys and Girls Camp came together for the Hootenanny, our annual co-ed talent show. The boys and girls sat on Boys Camp’s sand hill, enjoying popsicles while watching their friends perform some pretty amazing talents, from a great dance by Girls Camp’s youngest cabin, Durango, to some Rubix Cube solving by a few boys camp campers to a beautiful rendition of Vance Joy’s Riptide, sung by some talented Homestead girls. We were so proud of each and every camper who had the courage to stand up in front of Thunderbird and show off their amazing talents.
And of course, all of our specialty day meals were accompanied by some pretty amazing dance parties.
Our Sodbuster, Crow, Homestead, and Chippewa villages planned some wonderful specialty days. We cannot wait to see what the rest of the villages cook up second session!
Keep dancing, Thunderbird.
Molly “Pixel” Sprayregen
Thanks for the photos and footage from the Boys Camp Waterfront, Bill!
One of your friends suddenly collapses while you’re playing squash together.
You notice a stranger fall to the ground and begin turning blue.
Would you know what to do?
Each summer, in the two weeks before campers arrive, Thunderbird staff participate in a variety of safety training and certification programs taught by American Red Cross and Wilderness Medicine Institute instructors. This past week we were reminded that CPR training is not only important for camp, but useful for life.
In the past 72 hours, two staff members saved lives in separate incidents, using training they learned at Thunderbird. “CoCo” was playing squash with a dear friend when his heart stopped and he collapsed. In the 10 minutes before medics arrived, she performed CPR and used an AED to restart his heart. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. Two days later and 8,000 miles away, “Luther” glanced out the window at work and saw a man slump to the ground. She walked towards him, noticed he’d stopped breathing and revived the man with CPR. Medics arrived shortly thereafter.
Though various instructors train our summer staff, Camp Thunderbird would not be the same without the dedication of two individuals over the past 15 years: Jim Olson and Jean Zayic trained (and continue to train) hundreds of staff members in Lifeguarding, First Aid, and CPR, teaching not only skills but also the value and responsibility that comes with being a trained rescuer.
“CoCo” and “Luther” agreed to let us share their stories with the hope that others would recognize the value of CPR certification and (re)certify their skills. To find an online or in-person class near you, click http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class.