Vacation of a Life Time
by Sarah Solomon and Hudi Aryeh (campers)
Imagine not being able to go on your next vacation because flying means that your lungs might explode. Or imagine that in order to get clearance to take that step onto the airplane, you need a personal doctor to fly alongside with you. These are the ramifications my friends have to consider. This month, these remarkable friends accompanied me to Los Angeles as part of the Kids of Courage trip, a once-in a-lifetime experience we will never forget.
I traveled with twenty four special needs children and adults. Most of the participants on the trip have a genetic disease called familial dysautonomia (FD), a condition that does not allow the body to regulate everyday functions, such as blood pressure, which most people take for granted. Individuals with this type of disability do not usually get to take vacations, especially those that require traveling on airplanes, because of the risks mentioned above. Not only is the flight a problem, but most parents who have children with disabilities do not allow them to spend the night away with friends due to the complications that might occur.
Living with a disability, I know the challenges that come along with it. What most activities people take for granted, my friends and I yearn to be a part of. Simple mundane acts like sleepovers, school overnights, or just family vacations are a few of these activities that healthy teenagers and young adults get to experience.
This year, a new organization called Kids of Courage was established in order to finally give disabled people a chance to have adventure in life. Kids of Courage was started by a group of wonderful people who believe that just because someone has a disability, it does not mean that the thrills of life should be a foreign concept to him or her. Therefore, as a commencement trip, twenty-four disabled people ranging from ages eight to twenty-five, were taken on the trip of their lives.
Participants were paired up with a counselor who was briefed and trained about their medical history, efficiently preparing them to provide the proper care. These incredible counselors were volunteers who took off a week from their busy schedules so that this unforgettable trip could transpire. The love and care my counselor provided was indescribable. Similarly, the entire staff exuded immense sensitivity and warmth, which left me truly amazed. They made the trip so much fun with their fervent enthusiasm, wild displays of lunacy and ceaseless energy; the excitement never ended.
The trip consisted of a four night stay at a hotel in Los Angeles, as well as day trips to Sea World, Universal Studios and Disneyland. Each day was filled with fun and laughter. My friends and I were finally given the chance to have fun like everyone else around us. Of course, being in a group with twenty four special needs participants grabs much attention from the general public. We definitely got stared at; there were moments when we even got more attention than the performers in the show we are all watching. However, being 21 years old, I have been accustomed to getting stared at a lot in life, but this time the staring felt somewhat different. I felt that those watching us were in awe, amazed to see what they saw. Because despite the conspicuous medical equipment the participants were attached to, such as, heart machines, breathing machines and feeding tubes, we did not let it get in the way of us having fun. We received the utmost care from the workers in the parks. They were there to greet us with a welcoming smile, making sure the trip was a smooth ride. This to me was also an unbelievable experience in itself- being that there was so many of us that needed special treatment, and the parks agreed to be there for us rather than turn us down.
Being one of the oldest participants on the trip, I felt that it was up to me to show the younger children how to make the most out of the experience. I took it upon myself to cheer for our extraordinary group wherever we went. I felt that these cheers not only helped keep the group upbeat, but it also showed the people around us that just because someone is confined to a wheelchair, it certainly does not mean he or she is doomed to a humdrum existence. However, being captain of the cheering squad came with consequences, such as losing my voice and coming down with pneumonia. Yet, despite all that, I can honestly say that in the end it was worth every strained vocal cord and tired muscle in my body. I consider those “wounds” my badge as a Kid of Courage. This phenomenal trip was the most enjoyable and uplifting experience I have ever had in my 21 years of living, and I am forever grateful.