During my recent bookcase purge/clean I came across an envelope of old photos. Remember when you had to have photos printed? They reminded me how easy it is to give up. We can sometimes miss what lies ahead, or just around the corner if only we would persist a little longer. So often we can be worn down by life, by difficulties or circumstances beyond our control. Even our own doubts can convince us that quitting is the best option. Everything looks bleak and the difficulties pile one on top of the other until it’s all we can see.
The photos were from a camp, that I was running for High Schoolers in years seven to nine, at Lake Eildon in about 2001. With a team of young leaders, I was responsible for keeping the campers safe, giving them a positive experience of camping, while at the same time training those leaders. The leaders were high school seniors and we were on camp for five days under canvas. The adults comprised of me and two cooks. There may have been one or two twenty years old interns as well,[also in training] but we ran so many camps it’s a bit of a blur. Lake Eildon was at a very low level so any water sports meant a long walk to the waters edge. We had borrowed the local High school’s canoe trailer complete with eight fibreglass canoes, oars, and lifejackets. The driver [who wasn’t staying] decided to park it as close to the waters edge as possible, using his shiny new four wheel drive.. he knew what he was doing.
During the camp, the heavens opened, it was then that we discovered how many kids hadn’t brought wet weather gear, despite a clear checklist. We quickly scrambled into the main marquee – designed for fifty people – and switched to our wet weather programme; the one we weren’t expecting to actually use.
The rain was relentless and some of our younger campers soon discovered tents are not as water proof as you think, unless they’ve been put up by an experienced ‘outdoorsy person’ and we only had a couple of those. Besides putting your own tent up was part of the learning experience. Are we learning yet?
On inspection, by our one or two ‘outdoorsy’ leaders, it was discovered that some of the tents, most of the tents, had rivers running through them. There were a lot of very wet belongings which meant a not so fun camp any more.
The rain continued to fall in sheets and we needed to save this camp from going down in history as the worst camp ever. We decided to move the entire camp to a local church hall for the night and see what we could salvage the next day. By then I had decided the camp would have to be cut short and drivers would need to be contacted so we could evacuate the drowned rats in our care.
The next day, after a ‘fun night’ keeping the boys on one side of the hall and the girls on the other, we took our bedraggled charges and the sleep deprived leaders, back to the camp site to pack the tents as a teamwork exercise. Insert groan here.
Like the forlorn kids in my care, I wanted to quit and go home, I didn’t say it out loud, but we were all thinking it. Then, at the lowest moment of the entire week, the driver told me the canoe trailer was completely bogged and wanted to know if I had a plan. He’d been quite sure his brand new four wheel drive would pull it out and that had got bogged too. He and one of the cooks had managed to get his car out of the bog but the trailer wasn’t budging.
I wanted to weep, or kick something, but instead I ground my teeth and put it to my team. From my small circle of wet, muddy, exhausted young leaders came one person who really did see this as an opportunity. He wasn’t just saying the words, Tom believed them.
“Why don’t we get the tug-o-war rope and get all the kids to pull it out of the mud?” said Tom.
The rest of us stood silent, mouths slack, but with a faint glimmer of hope flickering in our bloodshot eyes.
“That’ll never work,” said the driver.
“It’s worth a shot,” said another skeptical leader.
“Half the kids don’t have jackets and it’s still pouring” said the driver.
I began to wonder if the driver wanted us to fail.
Tom left the circle of leaders, throwing “Hang on” over his shoulder.
He went into the cook tent and after a few minutes, emerged with a roll of black plastic rubbish bags.
“We can cut holes in these and put them on the kids as raincoats, like a poncho,” he said.
“Ok, let’s give it a go.” I said, handing over to Tom “Go for it.”
He sold the idea to the whole sodden camp and soon kids were lining up in the Marquee to have the black plastic bag raincoats. [Never put a plastic bag over your head kids]
Not everyone was on board, it wasn’t just the driver, there were some who walked away muttering excuses, unable to see the possibilities. Others stood at a distance and watched, unbelief etched into their faces.
Tom could have directed from a distance, but he was right there in the thick of it yelling “Heave!” His blue rain jacket sticking to his skin.
The canoe trailer inched it’s way out of the mud, each heave moving it a little more. It lurched and rocked dangerously, but soon those junior high kids dragged that trailer all the way back to camp amid cheers and laughter. They were dripping wet, splattered with mud, but supremely triumphant.
Tom didn’t just save the trailer, he saved the entire camp. The ‘camp where the trailer got bogged’ has gone down in camping history; it is a thing of legend. Those kids had an unforgettable adventure led by one indomitable leader who wouldn’t quit.
Tom has taken that spirit of leadership with him through the years. First into his music where he led teams and crowds who followed along with him. He’s taken it into his young family as he leads them into the future and he’s taken it into his business career where he is an influencer. How do I know that? Tom is my son. He is a wonderful human being and I love to watch him shine.
The photos of that camp are a reminder to me to keep going, no matter what, because you never know what might be just around the corner.