At the beginning of the summer, I wasn’t exactly looking to add any more commitments to my calendar. As an educator, I was really looking forward to at least one month with a little bit less structure in my life than the rest of the year. I was intrigued by an email announcement calling for volunteers to help with the Full of Life camp, however, and before I knew it, I found myself responding that I would be happy to come to every session!
Throughout the course of the 8 weeks, all of the camp participants seemed to have a good time playing active games and learning about exercises, but I think the person who learned the most was… me!
I learned to never underestimate the power of:
Sheer happiness is contagious, and there is no better sound than the laughter of a whole room full of people as they bounce beach balls on a beach towel with a partner, or play “Human Hungry Hungry Hippos”, or create the silliest possible animal walks during warm-ups, or realize that an Elvis or Michael Jackson song is on the workout playlist! And then there’s the type of joy that comes from overcoming a challenge, conquering a fear, or attempting something totally new… and loving it! It was amazing to be surrounded by a group who found such a wonderful sense of pride in their accomplishments. I think it’s often easy for us to forget to celebrate the “little things” as we’re keeping our focus on our end goals, but I was reminded this summer that there is never a step that is too small for a celebration!
We know this, right? When you work out routinely, you’re more likely to see the results you’re hoping for. Well, the changes that I saw in the participants who came week after week weren’t as easy to measure in terms of increases in physical strength – it wasn’t like they were lifting 10-pound weights at the beginning and then 25-pound weights at the end – but their confidence grew by leaps and bounds! Participants who had been reluctant to interact with the group in the beginning were taking their turns more independently and using the equipment more functionally. As an educator, my goal is always for my students to need less and less direct assistance from me as they become more personally invested in their own outcomes… and that’s exactly what happened with this Full of Life group, week after week after week!
I had seen glimmers of persistence during some of our more difficult activities in the early weeks of camp – completing an obstacle course, for example, or trying to figure out how to do strap rows after watching someone else do it – but nothing prepared me for THE SLED! Pushing a weighted sled for several feet was by far the most physically demanding task that the participants had been asked to do so far… and I was honestly a little nervous that some of them would become discouraged or end up losing their enthusiasm if it was too hard. But what a game-changer this was!! Without exception, they were all thrilled to be presented with such a big challenge. They eagerly pushed that sled, stopping to rest or adjust their grip at times, but every single participant powered it down the line to that little orange cone! In fact, the sled became the most-requested activity ever! Even better….after the sled was introduced (and everyone had “conquered” it), the group as a whole became empowered to persist through longer and more difficult structured workouts! They even voted for “working out” over “playing games”! Now they’ve even motivated me to work harder for my fitness goals and never give up!
It can be difficult to create a true sense of community when people only see each other once a week for an hour. But when you begin to find shared interests and passions, such as a favorite kind of ice cream or superhero, meaningful connections become easier. And when you connect with someone, you can build trust. To me, that’s what Full of Life was all about. Throughout the 8 weeks, a sense of “belongingness” began to form. High-fives became more frequent, and the participants started to clap and cheer for each other. They were no longer as dependent upon the volunteers to help them find partners. It was incredibly heartwarming to see the participants offer to help each other, to be concerned for each other, and to work through emotions when a community member was absent.
Full of Life ended up becoming the highlight of my week! I can’t wait until next year!
Kim Gerth, Pursuit Fitness Member