Summer Camp

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.

I was asked to give a motivational speech at a boys' lacrosse camp in New Hampshire last week. The invitation came from a friend I met in Vietnam when we rode bikes from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City along with a hundred other vets, many of whom were injured in the war. My friend was a passionate and devoted lacrosse player. He was captain of his team at Dartmouth and he spoke about this boys' camp in New Hampshire with words such as honor and brotherhood. I wanted to get a taste of the honor and the brotherhood myself.

I've attended many summer sport camps. I've spoken, for instance, at the All-Star girls basketball camps where the top players in the country are scouted by the top coaches in the country. You could cut the pressure with a knife. Four-year scholarships on the line. The competition is fierce and you wouldn't say those girls are having a lot of fun at summer camp.

So I assume the lacrosse camp is going to be very low key. It's a minor sport. And the boys range from ten to seventeen so I figure the younger kids will basically be there to have a good time. Swim in the lake. Pull the usual bedsheeting pranks at night.

The drive North from New York City is filled with five hours of continual eye candy. The wind whipping across the surface of cozy Lake Sunapee. The rolling hills guiding me past centuries-old covered bridges. And, as if Norman Rockwell had painted the scene himself, I drive into the little township of Cardigan, with the hand-made ice cream store on the corner and then onto the grounds of the camp where a fluffy Springer Spaniel named Boomer greets me at my quarters.

I quickly unpack and head over to the fields. As I approach, I hear a deep baritone, collective chanting. Around the last cluster of Aspen trees, I hear the chanting clearly. &quotGrit.; Honor. Team. Grit. Honor. Team." One hundred fifty boys, all in the dark green Cardigan Camp lacrosse shirts, huddle in the spirit of Team, trying to bellow with their voices as low as possible. For the next two hours, the best coaches in the country command these kids' respect and attention. They do stick drills like little toy soldiers. Stick left, throw. Stick right, catch. Tick Tock. Tick Tock. They go into a scrimmage, their hair flying wildly down the field, and play their hearts out. The exertion is such that several kids lose their stomachs. But they buckle up and get right back on the field. They answer their coaches, Yes, sir. Thank you Coach. I understand, Coach.

The dinner bell rings and they run to devour huge plates of pasta as only teenage boys can. Another two hours of hard play after dinner until dusk. Eight hours of footwork, stick skills, scrimmaging, and fitness drills the next day. And the next. And then it comes my turn to speak to them. They arrive at the auditorium at 9pm to hear me. The day topped out at 99 degrees, with high humidity. And the auditorium isn't any too cool that night, either. I'm usually pretty confident before addressing any group but, frankly, I'm standing back stage there at Cardigan, thinking the last person these boys want to hear from is a middle-aged woman whose prime as an athlete was long ago. I'm being introduced and all I can think of is they're hoping I'll be Shaquille O'Neal or Derek Jeter.

But from what I had witnessed on the field, how could I have doubted them? They listen to me with rapt attention. They soak up every story I tell them. And in the end I assure them they won't believe me. They cannot possibly imagine that one day they will be as old as I am. I tell them &quotYou; will never be ten or fourteen or seventeen again. This is YOUR time. Play hard. Live hard. And never look back and regret that you didn't live every minute of YOUR time with all your heart and soul&quot.;

Well, those boys lifted me on their shoulders and carried me out to the fields, chanting Grit. Honor. Team. And that night I was in New Hampshire, lacrosse, teenage boy, team heaven.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that's The Score.



Diana Nyad