Column: Camp experience is why we ride

Tour de Rock media rider Kyle Slavin of Saanich News shares his experience with the kids of Camp Goodtimes

It’s apparent by the exuberant look on his face that Matt Webb has familiarized himself with this meandering gravel road in rural Maple Ridge. He knows – all too well – where it leads.

As the Tour de Rock team convoys to Loon Lake, 20-year-old Matt sits beside me with anxious eyes glued to the road ahead, in anticipation of seeing the “Welcome to Camp Goodtimes” sign.

For 14 years, Matt spent weeks of his summer at Camp Goodtimes, a place for children with cancer (and those who have beat it) to meet one another and just be kids. No hospital beds, no doctors visits and no judgments.

The Canadian Cancer Society’s Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock doesn’t just raise money for pediatric cancer research. We also fundraise to send kids with cancer, their siblings and their parents to spend time at Camp Goodtimes – at no cost to them.

Matt first went to camp in 1998 at six years old.

Two years earlier, three months shy of his fourth birthday, Matt was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. After months spent in hospital undergoing treatment, Matt was released cancer-free, and has been in remission now for 15 years.

Through the 14 summers he attended Camp Goodtimes – even as a kid – one thing stayed in Matt’s mind about his experience there: “It was where I could go to be me.”

Touring the beautiful site on July 19 with my Tour teammates, including Matt, the overwhelming impression is that Camp Goodtimes feels like any other summer camp; the children swim in the lake, go rock climbing and make arts and crafts. And sometimes the kids have to step away from all the fun to visit the camp’s ‘Med Shed’ to take their chemotherapy drugs.

“As a teen, (camp) was somewhere to go to build you up, where there was perfect understanding and acceptance. Teens away from camp can empathize (because of your cancer) all they want, but teens at camp actually know what it was like,” Matt tells me.

The positivity the 67 campers exuded when we met them was electric. Their gratitude for us was evident, as was our admiration for each one of them – they are the reason we are riding.

Our short trek to Camp Goodtimes culminated in a fun casino night, where the kids earned brightly coloured money playing human slot machine, wheel of fortune, blackjack and ring toss.

As each of them hurriedly attempted to win as much fake cash as they could, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the spirit of camp.

I know, in the back of my mind, that the only reason I’m there is because the money I’m raising is to benefit them and kids like them who have been diagnosed with cancer – but, at camp, these impassioned gamblers and game-players are just kids.

Here, the cancer doesn’t define who they are, and they are not judged or treated differently because they have scars and experiences that no child should ever have.

That’s the beauty of Camp Goodtimes.

As we tour the camp, and see the kids together, it’s evident that Matt misses the camaraderie and friendships formed in the weeks and over the years spent at camp.

Because Matt is one of the Tour de Rock team’s guest riders this year, and we have a rigorous training schedule, this is the first time in 14 years he can’t spend at least a week there.

But he, like the other 17 members of the Cops for Cancer team, knows that his commitment to ride will allow other kids with cancer to have a good time at camp.

“Our day at camp was really a reminder about one of the main reasons I’m riding: for camp. It’s been so good to me for so many years and this is the biggest way I can give back.”

 

Kyle Slavin is a reporter for the Saanich News and a member of the 2012 Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock team. To support his fundraising efforts, visit is.gd/TourdeRock.