As the sun peeked over Miller’s Creek Aug. 18 at Camp Barnes, Special Olympics campers and counselors slowly trickled out from their cabins for the morning Hammer Walk as the traditional wake-up music blared across the complex.
The purpose of the 1 1/2-mile trek is to get people out of bed and moving prior to breakfast.
“And of course to get some exercise,” said Mark “Hammer” Wise, a Special Olympics Delaware staff member for whom the walk is aptly named.
However, for veteran camper Zach Simpler, the daily morning walk served a much greater purpose at the 14th annual summer camp. And because of that, Zach arrived at camp with a new plan for the morning walk.
“I plan to follow my dad’s directions, so I’m going to run it,” the 15-year-old said.
Zach’s strategy wasn’t to improve his chances of getting back to the cafeteria first to be at the head of the breakfast line. His plan had a much deeper meaning.
On Aug. 19 at the completion of the three-day, two-night camp, while others headed home for rest and relaxation, Zach was going straight to Cape Henlopen High School to join his cross-country running teammates at practice.
“I’m looking forward to running with them,” Zach said, grinning.
The idea for Zach to run for Cape Henlopen came about last fall when Vikings coach George Pepper saw him finish a race while running for Beacon Middle School. Pepper told the then-eighth-grader that if he worked hard over the summer, he could come out for the high school team.
“Cross country will be good for Zach, as he will have a core of people that he knows from practice as he starts the school year,” Pepper said. “The team has been accepting of people with special needs in the past, and this year’s student-athletes will do the same. It should be a great fall for the entire group.”
Zach typically trains by running between one and two miles a day.
“It depends on how my attitude is,” he said, smiling. “Just finishing actually makes me feel very satisfied."
That includes during the Hammer Walk. But little did Zach know he was going to get a special treat Monday morning.
“I’m going to go out for a run myself and then come back and get Zach before the rest of us walk,” Wise said Sunday afternoon as he watched his newest protégé participate in the Unified Field Day.
Zach was pleasantly surprised to get the individual attention from Wise, an accomplished triathlete. The two took off on an early run while the rest of the campers were still fast asleep.
“We just stayed quiet,” Zach said as he removed his earbuds following the 1.6-mile run. “I like the quiet of running.”
When Zach wasn’t running at camp, he was enjoying other activities along with the 53 campers and more than 30 counselors, many of them high school students from Project UNIFY, in attendance for the summer’s second session. Activities included kayaking, crafts, archery, sports games, swimming, a campfire, and a ride on the pontoon boat.
“My favorite camp activity is archery,” Zach said. “I did really well last summer and can’t wait to shoot with the bow and arrow again this year.”
The camp was an opportunity to celebrate EKS Day, a global tribute to Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The Unified events offered throughout camp reinforced the spirit of Shriver’s global challenge for everyone to “Play Unified, Speak Unified, and Live Unified.”
And for Zach, it was an opportunity to continue training for his upcoming high school season.
“I like the life lessons that [running] gives you, like taking your time and going at as casual of a pace as you want,” Zach said.