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Scaling new heights
Camp RAD campers enjoy a new experience at GSU
Camp RAD 2018
A smiling Sidney Ruffin, 14, is lowered back into his wheelchair and into the waiting arms of Georgia Southern student volunteer Kathleen Agbonzy, lower left, and camp coordinator Courtney Toledo as Camp RAD tackled the rock climbing wall at Georgia Southern's Recreation Activity Center on Tuesday.

It was a first for most of the kids. Many of the students have attended Camp RAD before, but never had they scaled the heights they did Tuesday during camp. 

Camp RAD stands for "Recreation for Adolescents with Disabilities" and is a four-week camp for 10- to 22-year-old exceptional youth that provides recreational opportunities. 

One of those opportunities took place Tuesday and may end up the highlight of their camp experience: rock wall climbing. 

Volunteers at Georgia Southern's Recreation Activity Center called balayers helped strap in the students and supported the ropes that were attached to the harnesses as they climbed up the walls.

A young man named Corinthians said he wasn't scared at all to climb, even though he said that part was "a little bit hard." Corinthians, 21, thought coming down was the toughest part, though, when the campers let go of the wall and hung in air while the balayers lowered them gently. 

"That part's scary," he said.

Joshua, 16, tried the first time and got a couple of feet up the wall and said, "Woah — I'm stuck," and was ready to come down. "It's too hard," he said once on the ground and shook his head. However, before long, he tried again, and with the campers cheering him on from below, he made it all the way to the top of the wall. 

When he reached the ground, he said, "I'm not scared; I'm excited. You don't give up; good climbing."

Another camper, Ben, 15, climbed halfway up one wall and then smiled down at his friends as he dangled in the air. Back on the ground, he said, "I would've gone higher, but some of the rocks were hard to hold on to."  

With a slight smirk on his face, he added, "I was just hanging around."

Fourteen-year-old Sidney, who uses a wheelchair, couldn't contain his smile as his friends chanted his name over and over. When he let go of the wall at one point and was asked if he wanted to come down, he shook his head emphatically and went back to climbing. He later said, "I've never been that high. I never quit." 

Dr. Gavin Colquitt, adapted physical education professor at Georgia Southern University, and Dr. Katy Gregg, Georgia Southern child and family development professor, are the founders of the camp.

It is the camp's sixth year, but the first time it is being held on Georgia Southern's campus, at the RAC.

"We're always looking for ways to expand opportunities for our campers, and the RAC presented many of those opportunities," Colquitt said.  

"We focus on functional skills, life skills and physical activity at Camp RAD," he added. 

This year, also for the first time, Camp RAD has on hand a full-time registered dietician to work with the campers to better manage their own dietary needs, as well as two full-time occupational therapists. 

Also helping with camp are instructor Courtney Toledo and intern and camp coordinator Taylor Forney. 

Forney plans to become an occupational therapist, and this is her third year at camp. 

"I'm pursuing my passion for children with disabilities," Forney said. 

She said she's had that passion since she was 10. 

"I met a young lady, the sister of one of my friends, and her name was Anna Doxey," Forney said. "I was immediately drawn to her and she was drawn to me. I wanted nothing more than to take care of her and spend time with her. 

"I fell in love with this when I met her, and one day, I thought, 'This is what I want to do.' It occurred to me — these are my people."

The camp is a win-win situation for campers and students, like Forney and another student, Mary Anne Collins, who plan to pursue professions in a related field. Georgia Southern students majoring in exercise science and child and family development serve as camp counselors. 

Collins also plans to pursue occupational therapy as a career and said the camp gives her the opportunity to gain experience and "help out where I feel like I need to be."

The camp is a zero out-of-pocket expense for the campers and is funded by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Camp RAD works with Pineland Mental Health Services, Easter Seals and B and B Care Services.  

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