As frontwoman for Wheelchair Sports Camp, Kalyn Heffernan is a busy emcee: Her band is currently on tour with Flobots and, from the road, the musician has been organizing a benefit show for the Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp.
Celebrating its thirtieth year in 2013, the week-long camp -- from which Heffernan's band took its name -- is the only free program of its kind for kids in wheelchairs. A participant and eventually a counselor at the camp for more than a decade, Heffernan wanted to find a way raise money for the summer program -- and so this Sunday, June 16, at Casselman's, the Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp benefit concert will do just that. Wheelchair Sports Camp (the band) will be joined by Ian Cooke and the 303 Children's Choir, puppet band Ramekin Liquid Love, Dino Squad and Rubedo for a day of music.
In advance of Sunday's concert, Heffernan talked to Westword about how the Colorado Jr. Wheelchair Sports Camp came into her life, and the opportunities it provides for kids like her in the community.
See also: - Kalyn Heffernan and Wheelchair Sports Camp on the cover of this week's Village Voice - National Veterans Wheelchair Games kick off in Denver on Murderball, anyone? - Kalyn Heffernan on rockin' the mike and making people think twice
Westword: How did you get involved with the Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp?
Kalyn Heffernan: I moved back to Denver when I was nine and I got involved with an adaptive PE teacher. My previous teacher was making me write reports on sports instead of actually playing them. Then I met Mary Carpenter -- she's also an adaptive PE teacher. She was like, I started this camp, you should come. My first year at the camp was 1997, when I was ten, and I've been going every year since.
I went every year, but I was like a pre-teen, and I always brought all of my friends to volunteer -- but they would never actually volunteer. [Laughs.] We just fucked off the whole time and got into trouble. We were always running amuck. But I still went back -- I felt too cool for the camp, you know? But I still went back every year.
They bus in kids from across the city -- they would pick me up in Arvada to go to camp. I always wanted to stay on the tennis courts, even though you were supposed to rotate through the sports -- so I got into a lot of trouble for not staying with my group. But they put me in a group with the other power chairs -- which are the less-able kids. Our activities would be like cup stacking. Kind of silly shit. But they were kids who loved it so much, and I was really inspired by that. As soon as I could start driving when I was sixteen, I started volunteering instead of being a camper.
Outside of it being just a camp for kids in wheelchairs, what made the camp cool to you?
These kids live for this camp -- there are so many kids that I've made friends with and have mentored a little bit, and they'd be talking about next year's camp on the last day, before it was even over for that year. It's just an opportunity to be around other kids like themselves, and not being limited in their activities. It's really cool too, because, all of the volunteers are pretty much able-bodied. So kids get help if they need it, but all of the volunteers are sensitive to disabled kids -- so they really get to have fun.
I wasn't really into sports, but a lot of the kids are athletic. It opens a lot of doors for them in sports outside of camp. Each activity at camp is led by a disabled counselor -- the counselors are all disabled and the volunteers are all able-bodied. So the counselors are athletes or have been in the camp before. Like, the hand-cycling section is taught by (cyclists) who bring in their handcycles and they have a group outside of camp, just volunteering their week for the camp. In that way, it opens a lot of opportunities outside of the camp.
It's crazy -- even for someone like me who is disabled, has been disabled and has disabled people in my life, it is still crazy to be in a gymnasium full of over a hundred wheelchairs at the same time. Every time I take someone to the camp who's never been, they are surprised by seeing so many wheelchairs. I hope the same thing happens at this concert, because I've certainly never experienced that many wheelchairs at a concert. Can you talk a little bit about your own disability?
My disability is Osteogenesis Imperfecta -- or OI, or brittle bones. So, PE was always really weird for me because, even though I was pretty active as a kid, a lot of teachers were really afraid to let me do any physical sports because they thought I would break something. I think there are two or three other OI kids at the camp, and that's exciting to me. I mean, it's fairly rare, but I think there are maybe ten or fifteen of us in Colorado?
So the camp itself isn't specific to any disability?
No, it's for physically disabled kids. Some of the kids are able to walk or have crutches, but they also have loner wheelchairs, so some of those kids use those. A lot of the sports are wheelchair sports, but there are extra chairs there. Every time I get a new chair, I donate my old one to the camp. It's really cool.
Oh, and anyone can volunteer; you don't have to be in a wheelchair.
You organized this Sunday's Colorado Wheelchair Sports camp benefit show. How did the idea for the show come about?
I've always wanted to throw a benefit for the camp, since I stole the band name from it. [Laughs.] But I've never felt good enough to do something big -- I still don't know if I'm in a position to. But this year is the thirtieth anniversary (of the camp), so I had to do it. Quite a few kids have been bugging me, asking when we were going to do another kids show -- we used to play a lot at the D-Note and try to get kids involved. I thought this would be a good way to do that and benefit the camp.
I really wanted to raise them a big chunk of money and do something for the kids -- so campers are free and I wanted to make it affordable for everyone. What's most inspiring about the camp for me is that it's free: People told (camp organizer) Mary Carpenter she was crazy for doing this. And the camp even provides free transportation. From what I can tell, this is the only camp of its kind that has lasted this long that is a whole week for free. It's so cool that it's been able to last this long.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The Colorado Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp Benefit Concert runs from 1 to 5 p.m. this Sunday, June 16, at Casselman's. Wheelchair Sports Camp (the band) will perform, along with Ian Cooke and the 303 Children's Choir, puppet band Ramekin Liquid Love, Dino Squad and Rubedo. Illegal Pete's and WaterCourse will provide some food. Money raised will benefit the camp; the show is free for campers, $15 for kids and $25 for adults. For more information, visit Wheelchair Sports Camp's band website.