After my accident, I was laying in the burn unit not knowing how I was going to get through the next minute. Two little boys who were admitted to the room next to me changed that for me. Etched in my heart forever is how they didn’t have a choice in their accident, and I did. I knew the consequences of being a fireman. They showed me that I have a choice about how I respond, and I thought if they can do this so can I. These two little guys provided me the HOPE and STRENGTH that I needed to get through the next minute and the next. To this day, I am deeply affected that children have to go through this horrible trauma. A constant on my mind has been my little angels and what they were going through. I felt this inspiration to do something to help them. At that moment, I wasn't sure what that something would be but I knew why.
The first time I was taken outside in my wheelchair, I realized I had been completely choked off from the natural senses of the world during my recovery. I didn’t know I was slowly fading from being connected to life as a human. The moment I felt the sun shining on my face and saw the bright blue skies above, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being alive. These basic things--the fresh breeze, the smell of grass, the sounds of the earth--instantly gave me a renewed perspective of the healing experience. Life took on a new meaning for me in that sunshine.
I didn’t know at the time, but have come to learn that this reviving experience would lead me towards the what of my life’s work. After I checked myself out of the burn unit, the local community and my brothers and sisters from Minneapolis Fire started a fundraiser for me. The LOVE and SUPPORT that was felt was like no other, and one of the purest form of healing. Then I learned that Regions needed funds to send kids to a burn camp in Colorado. I took this as a call to action and we made it possible for more kids to attend the camp with a large portion of the funds that were raised for me. For several years, Camp Cheely in Colorado was the safe haven for Minnesota children who became burn survivors. Eventually I felt prompted to think locally. With no experience or knowledge of what laid ahead, I took a leap of faith with Chris, the Vice Chair of Firefighters 4 Healing, and let my passion and determination take the lead. It became clear that my what would be to serve burn survivors and their families with a burn camp of their very own in Minnesota.
Our journey to making Camp RED a reality included many seemingly random events that I humbly call “thin spaces”. From a coffee shop encounter with a camp doctor to an unplanned visit to Camp Knutson in 2016. These events and many others, lead Chris and I to people who would help bring Camp RED into existence. One in particular was when we attended the annual Camp Knutson Night Under the Stars event. We met Jeff Benson who lost his older brother Grant in an auto body fire in 1977. He worked with my dad at Station 8. What are the chances Jeff knew or remembered my dad's name and connected it to me after all these years? This was a very powerful “thin space” moment for us, and reassured me that we were right where we needed to be. More and more events happened throughout that year filling me with gratitude and appreciation to be spared so I could help others on such a grander scale. All along the way, there have been so many inspirational people who have provided guidance, worked tirelessly, helped, donated, supported, and volunteered to make Camp RED a possibility. Now, it is no longer a possibility but a reality. Thank You to all our supporters & collaborators, volunteers, families, friends, and local fire communities for your ongoing love and support. From the sincerest place in my heart, thank you for making this miracle come to life!
This journey and Camp RED have forever changed my life at a magnitude that I could never imagined. It has been and will continue to be a transformation of healing and the purest form of love I have ever been blessed to experience. I graciously invite you to join us on this journey at Camp RED, wherever you are in your recovery as a burn survivor or loved one. Our hope is that your time at Camp RED will help you Realize Every Dream for a better tomorrow, just like it has for me and other campers.