The Runner: A Story Of How Camp Changed A Young Man’s Life

Jun 23, 2023 | by Brad Rowland

The Runner: A Story Of How Camp Changed A Young Man's Life

By: Captain Michael Good

When King first stepped foot on Camp Hidden Lake campus in June 2021, he seemed to us like most typical first-time campers; quiet, reserved, and nervously fidgeting, anxious about spending a week away from home and meeting new people. However, as King was being checked in and introduced to his counselors and cabin mates, that is when the atypical happened.

King started running.

Counselors quickly caught up with him and talked him into returning to the cabin, thinking it to be just first-day nerves. However, it happened again later that afternoon when King wanted a top bunk, and only bottom bunks remained. Like lightning, King tore out of his room, running past the cabins, through the playground, and up the drive toward the entrance of the camp.

And, crucially, he was fast.

When I spotted the runner, I hopped in the golf cart, and quickly caught up with King. When I saw the disappointment and frustration that lined this young boy's face, I suspected some quiet time enjoying the beautiful scenery might relieve some of his tension and anxiety. Taking the more scenic ride back to the cabins, we rambled silently along the hilly back roads. And in that space of quiet and safety, King began to open up about the hardships of his home life. As King spoke, I began to understand that King coped with fear and difficulties by running.

When we arrived back at the cabin, King had begun to relax, and our counselors had secured him a top bunk. The next day, King and his group of campmates were enjoying pool time. King loved pool time! So, when the whistle blew for campers to dry off for their next activity, King climbed out of the pool and began to run. I quickly leaped into the golf cart to catch up with King. I offered him a ride that gave him the space he needed to work through his frustration.

This would happen many more times throughout the week. And every time King ran — from life's problems, the letdowns, or anything that wasn't easy — our Camp staff was always there to catch him with open arms.

For the remainder of that week, King swam until his skin appeared wrinkled with smiles, zip-lined until a permanent grin etched his boyish face, and fished until it seemed there wasn't a single fish left in the lake to be caught. He even learned to play the trumpet and was filled with pride to showcase his new and unexpected talents during the closing recital.

On the last morning of camp, luggage was being loaded, campers were giving hugs, and young people were signing each other's camp shirts as a way to remember their shared experiences and newfound friendships. Then, King began to run. King ran past the sports court, the nurse’s station, then the dining room.

As I rushed to catch him, I noticed it was different this time. King was running toward me. King jumped up into my arms and squeezed me so tightly I could barely breathe.

For the first time in King's life, he had experienced people willing to chase him when he ran because he was so loved unconditionally. This is what camp does. Camp changes lives. Our counselors are trained to recognize and connect with each individual child right where they are.

King enrolled in a five-week music program the following school year and is registered for the camp experience for the summer of 2023. He is continuing to learn and grow in his musical abilities.

Now, Camp Hidden Lake is no longer a place he runs from; it is a place he runs to.

Captain Michael Good is the Divisional Youth Secretary for the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division and the director of Camp Hidden Lake.

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