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In This Together: Finding strength for the unexpected
Aug 08, 2014 | 4383 views | 0 0 comments | 151 151 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A FAMILY sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation meet a Thunderbird pilot at the recent HAFB air show.
Photo by Louise R. Shaw | Davis Clipper
A FAMILY sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation meet a Thunderbird pilot at the recent HAFB air show. Photo by Louise R. Shaw | Davis Clipper

The girls wanted their summer camp to be high adventure like the boys always had, so their leaders planned a week of rappelling, rafting and hiking in and around a national park.

No cabins this time, either. Just tents. 

And no showers to be had for miles around. Not even a river.

Still, most everyone was excited - except about the no phones and no music part, which made even a national park seem a little bit too much of a wilderness.

After formulating lists and organizing sub groups and giving training in basic First Aid, we headed out for the four-hour drive to Arches National Park in the summer of 2012.

It turned out the high adventure came even before the ropes went over the cliff or the oars were put in the water.

The adventure began when we pulled into the park and faced 102-degree temperatures and terribly high winds.

Winds that blew our tents down. Winds that blew sand into our food. Winds that made it impossible for us to hold a group powwow because if the audience had their backs to the wind, sand was blowing into the speakers’ eyes and mouths, making it impossible for us to see or say anything.

We settled in, managed to get some food down, managed to get enough tents up, did a little three-mile hike and called it a night. 

We couldn’t close the window flaps in our tents because it was so hot we’d suffocate, so all through the night the sand pelted our sticky-from-sweat skin as we pretended to sleep.

Nobody fell apart and nobody went home, though I think I did hear a car engine going at some point which means there may have been someone with access to car keys that enjoyed a bit of sand-free air conditioning surreptitiously. Nobody asked and nobody volunteered.

The next morning, as we washed what we could in the communal sinks, women from the neighboring campsites told us they were surprised to see us still around.

They had heard some cars pull out that night and figured it was the group with all the girls.

But it wasn’t.

These girls were tough.

They thought they’d need to be tough for the adventure activities. 

But they needed to be tough for just the regular old eating, sleeping life of unexpected surprises.

And somewhere inside, they found tough. 

I saw tough again this year.

It was when I was covering the visit of the Thunderbird F-16 pilots to the air show at Hill Air Force Base.

These men and women are a genteel, talented sort of tough.

It takes tough to fly for the U.S. Air Force. And it takes tough to be one of the few selected for the demonstration team. And it takes tough to fly feet away from other F-16s upside down and fast.

But as representatives of their service and their country, they were dignified and gracious, even while they were tough.

I saw tough again when they climbed out of their planes and walked to the families invited to their pre-show the day before the public was invited.

These families had been invited by the Make-A-Wish foundation, which usually means someone in the family has faced an unexpected life surprise. And not a good one.

One little girl was pale and weak. You could tell it was an effort for her even to be sitting there watching the show. You could tell it was hard for her to respond to questions or react enthusiastically even to Thunderbird pilots. But she tried. 

She was tough.

I couldn’t help watching her for a while. And I couldn’t help watching her mother.

This beautiful woman was working hard to help her daughter be excited. She pointed things out to her daughter, as did others in the family. She made sure she met as many pilots as she could. She helped her be comfortable with all that was going on around her. She spoke for her when it was too hard. She carried her when she was too tired.

This mother spoke positively to me about her daughter’s experience and her prognosis. She was so upbeat. So hopeful.

But we both knew that behind the smile was lots of worry. And more than a little bit of sadness.

I’ve seen tough. 

And it’s beautiful.

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