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Indiana camp gives kids with disabilities opportunity for outdoor activities

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ANDERSON, Indiana — Like a lot of kids, 12-year-old Nick Hicks spends a lot of his time spent with his head buried in his tablet and iPod, watching movies, playing games and listening to music.

But in June, he got to spend five days doing things like horseback riding and making art at Camp Riley.

A branch of Riley Hospital for Children, Camp Riley accommodates hundreds of kids ages 8 to 18 who travel to the camp at Indiana University's Bradford Woods each summer to prove to themselves and others that their physical circumstances don't define them.

Several Riley Kids from Madison County attended the camp this year, including Nick and his brother, Chris.

"He said now he's looking forward to his brother going so he can have peace and quiet," Nick's mother, Terri Hicks of Frankton, told The Herald Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1npMUsm ) .

Nick and Chris, 13, each suffered burns and traumatic brain injuries in a house fire when they were toddlers.

Chris is mentally disabled, is missing toes on one foot and recently had to have one of his legs amputated. Both of Nick's legs are amputated.

Nick attended Camp Riley June 15-20, and Chris attended this past week.

At camp, Nick said he got to draw cartoons, something he loves to do, and spend time by the fire.

"But my mom said she's going to build a campfire," he said.

The boys first came to Terri as foster kids three years ago, but she and her husband adopted them a year and half ago. She said the boys have come a long way emotionally, mentally and physically since they've been in her care, but that programs like Camp Riley and Jeff Saturday's Burn Camp help, too.

"I feel like it's very important because they get to do things they don't normally get to do," she said. ". The one thing about Camp Riley is they all have disabilities. It's not like when Nick goes to the burn camp."

Nick briefly met 10-year-old Sydni Hershberger of Lapel at Camp Riley. She has spina bifida and gets around in a wheelchair.

At camp, she went swimming, went on the climbing tower and — her favorite — horseback riding.

Her mother, Ami, said she's an adrenaline junkie.

"I like to go fast," Sydni said.

Sydni said the other kids at Camp Riley understand her and certain challenges better than her friends at home.

Her mother said the other kids go at a similar pace and sometimes have to stop to cater to medical needs just like Sydni.

"I think it's important so that they all get to know each other," she said. "A lot of the kids go to Riley (Hospital), but we miss each other. Going to camp allows her to connect with them."

Camp Riley breaks into five sessions over six weeks, based on needs and a staff-to-camper ratio.

Pendleton resident Angie Clark said her 16-year-old son has gone to Camp Riley for five years. This year he went to the Kan-Du session for the first time, a session that is designed for kids with cognitive and physical function levels assessed between infants and 4 years old.

Her son, Cameron Abel, has cerebral palsy and other ailments. Clark said he's mentally about 2 or 3 years old.

"Until he sees a pretty girl," she said. "Then he's a typical teenage boy."

When she dropped him off at camp this year, she took a picture of him with his sister and several other girls. Clark said he turned to his mom in the picture and looked at him like he was a ladies' man.

Dropping him off at camp has gotten easier, Clark said. She used to have to sneak away when it was time to leave, but this year he turned to her and said, "Bye, Mama. Go home."

Clark said she sets a goal for him every year he goes to camp. This year it was for him to get in the pool, and she said he got in every day.

Clark said the camp is like a splurge. Her other children get to participate in sports like softball and track and other programs throughout the year, but Abel doesn't have the same opportunities.

The family doesn't regularly have access to things like a low net for him to shoot baskets, or equipment to let him get in the pool.

"He gets to be a normal boy in a specialized place," she said. ".He doesn't get to do anything all year, so it's worth it.


Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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