Running Down Adolescence

Adolescence is a tough time—socially, physically, you name it. I wore what my mom referred to as a “lemon face” for about 2 years. (We can now diagnose it properly as an admirable case of RBF.) Family members would tell my mom (in front of me), “She’ll grow out of it.”

I had friends, but I felt socially awkward and did not enjoy being me as much as I could have. A few years later, I exited adolescence much more sociable and confident. So what intervened? As I raise two girls and think about how to help them cultivate a positive self-concept, I’ve already exposed them to the two experiences that helped me most: running and attending overnight camp at Wa Wa Segowea.

Most kids or adolescents do not decide to run because of the scientifically-proven benefits, but those benefits certainly exist. A 2012 study in The Journal of Adolescent Health found that participants who ran for 30 minutes a day for three weeks had improved mood, sleep quality, and concentration. This Runners World article also captures how the confidence cultivated through running can extend to other areas of life—such as entering a school poetry contest or running for student government.

My lifelong friends Sarah Perks and Jennifer Richardson trail running in the late 90s.

I learned in 8th grade that one of my running friends, Sarah, went to this awesome camp called WA WA Segowea. It was (and is) on a beautiful private lake in the Berkshires, just over an hour from Poughkeepsie and Albany. I had to give it a try.

I learned to push myself physically through running, but camp had its own challenges. In the “senior village” my first year, I joined a dozen adolescent girls and two counselors on a 3-day Appalachian Trail hike. We covered 20+ miles with 25-pound packs on our backs. We coached each other up literal mountains and picked each other up after falling backwards on our packs, like upside down turtles with legs and arms waving helplessly in the air.

When we were not on the trail, we joined the full slate of camp activities. We overcame stage fright to participate in skit night. We learned to build a fire and cook on it. We boated around the pristine lake on the lookout for beavers and turtles. Through it all, we became more independent, we flexed our leadership skills, and we felt what it meant to be part of a community.

CITs in togas, 1995 or 1996: Lisa Perks, Jessica Moore, Sarah Perks, Georgia LoPresti Meckes, Boo Van Alstyne, Nerissa Steel.

Research affirms that overnight camping experiences can help kids be more resilient. Furthermore, parents report their that their kids are more independent and have improved peer relationships after experiencing summer camp. These findings all make sense. At camp, we weren’t turned inward, thinking only of ourselves and how others perceive us. We didn’t spend our time checking our phones, straightening our hair, or coveting our friends’ fashions. We were looking outward, getting to know others in our community– and getting to know ourselves better in the process.

The WA WA Wally Waddle 5K and free kids races bring together these two formative experiences: running and WA WA. The Poughkeepsie, NY race is a fundraiser and a friend-raiser for WA WA Segowea. Click here to register for the race, selecting Wally Waddle from the drop-down menu of races. All proceeds will go toward camper scholarships for local kids.

The free kids races are a great way to introduce kids of all ages to running, to encourage them to set goals and work toward achieving those goals. The 5K is also a great opportunity for people of all ages to maintain fitness and a sense of community connection. Come for the race, enjoy a spring day at Vassar Farm, get your face painted, and maybe you’ll be rewarded with a home-baked pie prize at the end.

Dozens of alumni will be at the race, including our inspiring camp director, Lily Mercogliano Easton. At the race, you can speak to Lily, to current campers, to parents, and to former campers about WA WA. You can also learn more and register online.

It’s hard to pinpoint the magic of Camp WA WA Segowea, but ask alumni and we’ll try. Some say it’s in the lake. I say it’s in the people.

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