At Kyle's Kamp our biggest event is our Memorial Day Wood Bat Tournament for travel baseball teams. This year almost 100 teams from 8U-15U participated, raising over $300,000 for Children's National Medical Center's Pediatric Oncology division. As the last team received its championship trophy Monday night, I could almost hear an audible, "That's a wrap!" from a whole host of volunteers who made the tournament happen.
Unfortunately, the over thirty children who served as Patient Ambassadors for teams in our tournament as well as in our High School Diamond Dreams games, can rarely ever utter the phrase "That's a wrap!" when it comes to their journeys in fighting cancer. Even when treatment protocols come to an end, these families continue to live with some element of fear that their battles might start all over again.
In addition to Kyle Hahne, the namesake of Kyle's Kamp, all of us involved in this organization are daily inspired by the memory of Gavin Rupp, a 13 year old boy who died of brain cancer in 2013 and said,
"Before I had cancer, normal just felt kinda boring. But normal now, is like . . . kinda special."
Gavin's wish to feel normal was not unique. Children with cancer are thrust into incredibly abnormal days of scans, biopsies, chemotherapy treatments, hair loss and radiation. Through an ordinary, normal game of baseball - the game that both Kyle and Gavin love - Kyle's Kamp seeks to bring some light into a child's life when it is marred by darkness. Our teams share the experience of playing a game of catch, running the bases and spitting sunflower seeds through a chain link fence with children who often have not experienced the blessed gift of a "normal" day in a very long time.
In keeping with the mantra that Kyle's Kamp provides the opportunity for "kids helping kids", the Patient Ambassador program connects a child who has been or is currently in treatment for cancer with each of our high school Diamond Dreams fundraising teams and our Memorial Day Tournament teams. The ambassadors feel honored and special. They are introduced by the game announcers, are able to throw out the first pitch and spend time getting to know players and coaches. Our teams were extremely gracious and generous to their ambassadors this year providing them signed baseballs, flowers, personalized jerseys and a multitude of gifts.
What we have found is that even as the teams strive to make the patients feel special, the children who benefit the most are the healthy, vibrant athletes who get the honor to engage with these ambassadors. They are able to see early on that life can change in an instant. They find that for children just like them, a day can be full of unexpected challenges that are far more daunting than facing a fastball from an opposing pitcher.
Some might think that these lessons might be too much for these children or maybe that the challenges these patients face are lost on a young baseball player focused on getting hits and scoring runs. I don't think so.
The presence of our Patient Ambassadors show even our youngest teams, that if they look hard, if they give more, if they open themselves up, little people can do big things. That no matter if you are small or large, sick or healthy, athlete or not, you can be a blessing to another. That even in the midst of darkness and fear and uncertainty, there is courage in the youngest of God's people. There is gratitude in the most brutal of circumstances. There is laughter in the most serious of situations. There is hope in the most fearful of challenges.
On an ordinary day on an ordinary ball field, there is an extraordinarily beautiful life to be found.
Please check out our video starring many of our Patient Ambassadors from 2015. A giant thank you to Randi Gladstone for taking on this program and hitting it out of the park! If your child is in treatment currently or has been in treatment in the past for pediatric cancer and you would like to have he or she participate in one of our Dreams games or our Memorial Day tournament in 2016, please contact Randi at kyleskamp.Randi@gmail.com
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Jenn Skinner is a Christian and a Texan(Texas Longhorn to be specific!) living in beautiful Virginia with her very patient and funny husband and her 3 very impatient and funny little boys/ball players, She joined the fight against Pediatric Cancer with Kyle's Kamp in 2013. She also writes about just about everything and nothing and the ridiculously abundant life God has gifted her at her blog, The View From Behind Home Plate