Two Ripley County boys who don’t know each other have a lot in common.
Both need help walking. Michael Gray Jr., 10, rural Batesville, has leg braces, while Travis Benning, 9, Versailles, uses crutches. For longer journeys, such as navigating a store or zoo, they need wheelchairs.
Both use the word FUN over and over when talking about their summers.
Maybe that’s because they attended Camp Riley at Bradford Woods, Indiana University’s outdoor recreation center near Martinsville.
Gray, the son of Tami and Michael Gray Sr., describes his third summer there as “a camping experience with kids that are just like you. They have braces issues or have trouble speaking or trouble walking. Some might have spine issues and some might even use power wheelchairs. They have so much fun … they won’t even know (their parents) are gone.”
“Camp Riley empowers children with physical disabilities by providing enriching, life-changing experiences in a traditional camping environment tailored to their individual needs. For 58 years, campers have shattered perceived limitations, met new friends and reached higher achievements, allowing them to return home with an increased sense of independence and confidence,” explains Jason Mueller, regional communications manager of Riley Children’s Foundation, which supports Riley Hospital for Children and the camp.
At camp, “you can do all sorts of fun things that you might not have ever done before,” reports Benning, the son of Brian and Terri Benning. During his second time at the camp, “I liked archery and swimming” in the pool rather than the lake.
Mastering the climbing tower was the greatest challenge and No. 1 activity of Gray, who has arthrogryposis, a rare muscle disorder causing stiff joints and abnormal development of muscles. Wearing a harness, he had to try to climb up 100 feet with the help of a wood piece, brick, rock and other objects. To show progress, there are three bells to ring – one at the top – and platforms near each for rest. “I’m afraid of heights, so I only made it to the second bell.”