Sleepaway camp wasn’t part of my childhood growing up, but I was always envious of friends who’d gotten to go. It seemed like an important rite of passage I’d missed out on and one I’d hoped my son, Ames, could experience when the timing felt right. Here’s how we landed at Camp Champions.
We’d only lived in Austin about seven months last March when local moms started buzzing about summer camp enrollments opening up, underscoring that the more popular ones fill up quickly. Ames is a master at flying under the radar, so my primary concern was that he might go unnoticed, never giving himself the chance to make new friends or venture out of his comfort zone.
I felt that a successful summer camp experience would include having fun first and foremost, and then let his guard down to forge new friendships, try new challenges (like wakeboarding or water skiing) and find enjoyment outside of his digital devices.
Overwhelmed initially with all the camp choices in the Austin area, what sealed the deal for me about Camp Champions in looking for a two-week summer camp was this:
- They have the longest and most thorough staff training of any camp I spoke with.
- Their safety procedures and how their staff is trained to connect with and be role models for the campers gave me a great deal of comfort.
- Their staff is held to exceptionally high standards, including a commitment to not drink alcohol for the duration of the summer (including on their off time). I loved the camp values, which they call “The Four Rs.”
- They offer every activity under the sun in a stunning hill country lake setting!
- They’re dedicated to helping each camper grow during their time at camp. This was obvious from their website, and I loved owner Steve Baskin’s passion when speaking for TEDx and at his Harvard reunion.
As part of their mission to build strong kids, they take extra care of first-time campers to ensure their experience is a success. Once enrolled, Camp Champions really delivered, starting even before the summer session arrived:
- The pre-camp communication was thorough, and the Opening Day check-in was seamless.
- The energy and enthusiasm were palpable from staff on Opening Day, which made Ames feel excited to be there, and helped relieve my own anxiety as I drove away. Back home from drop-off, I downloaded the Campanion app that Camp Champions uses to keep parents abreast of what campers are up to.
- Each day it showcases several photo albums where parents can see camper photos, as well as a brief synopsis so that parents have a window into what’s happening at camp each fun-filled day.
You can imagine my relief and exhilaration when I spotted Ames all in, having fun, and relishing in camp life. Over the two-week span, I watched my tentative twelve-year-old turn into a champion of new challenges and joy. Memories melded into his youth of Camp Champions’ legendary tribal ceremony of Spartans and Trojans.
My brave worrier turned into a warrior with face paint on, looked stoic as a new Spartan, singing camp songs with his new tribe, followed by the Olympic games the next day. When I got a call from the camp counselor for a weekly check-in, I hoped Ames might be encouraged to at least attempt Camp Champion’s longest tradition, the 700-meter out and back Lake Swim. (The swim is supported with kayaks, wave runners and in Ames’ case, his counselor, in the water, matching him stroke for stroke to reassure him.) When I heard Ames not only gave it a try, but that he completed it—all the way across and back—I couldn’t have been prouder.
When I picked up Ames on Closing Day, the drive home was nothing like the ride there. Ames talked non-stop telling me all about his action-packed two weeks. He sailed, waterskied, swam, rock climbed, did ax throwing, played pickleball, and even learned to two-step dance. Plus, he made new friends from all over the world (2019, pre-COVID travel restrictions).
He stayed up late some nights and other nights he crashed the minute his head hit the pillow. For a kid who doesn’t always jump right into new things, I was impressed with the range of different experiences Ames had in just two weeks at camp. He walked me through all the photos on the camp app, sharing stories that are now forever etched as wonderful memories from that time he braved going to sleepaway camp for the first time.