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Whenever I return from a weekend race or event, one of two things happens. Often, I’m impatient to get to my computer and transfer my experience onto the screen, word vomit style. Or, I’m hesitant to share my experience, because I’m still internalizing the events and trying to figure out how to possibly put them into words. My experience at EMPOWER Summer Camp would definitely be placed in the latter category. And not because it was a bad experience – quite the opposite. It was such an incredible, and unexpectedly needed weekend, that I’m selfishly hesitant to share.
But who are we kidding, I’ve never been one to be short of words in this space, so let’s go.
Wait, Summer Camp?
Yeah, you read that right. I’m 37 years old and I spent the weekend at summer camp, complete with cabins, horses, campfires, smores, campfire songs, arts & crafts, swimming, and more. Everything you remember from childhood – except we had happy hour complete with wine and hard cider.
But let’s back up.
EMPOWER Summer Camp was an event organized by the amazing woman of Fit Approach, and was held in the Ronora Lodge & Retreat Center in Watervliet, MI. When the invite showed up in my inbox earlier this summer, I immediately had some hesitations. Besides the logistics of actually getting to Michigan, the thought of putting on a happy blogger face for an entire 48 hours felt – exhausting.
I was going to start this next sentence with the overused (by me) word “confession:”, but the truth is it’s no secret that I’m in an interesting place in my life right now. It’s not a confession, if you’ve been reading my posts, you already know I’m in a funk. The death of my Dad 10 months ago has left me wildly introspective, which in many ways is a good thing, but that introspection has also caused me to subconsciously seclude myself, socially. Physically, I’ve run myself into the ground over the last 10 months, as it has been my way of dealing with grief. But that choice of “therapy” has left me with a shiny 100 mile belt buckle, a ton of DNF’s, a couple injuries, and a VERY angry adrenal system. Professionally, I’ve been in an strange and somewhat uncomfortable space trying to figure out exactly where my place is.
I know I’m sounding like a broken record on this topic, but in short: I’m not currently my best self, and I didn’t feel worthy – or up to – spending an entire weekend with complete strangers in a strange place, doing things that I knew would take me out of my comfort zone (cough, cough: like lots of yoga).
And that immediate feeling of discomfort and hesitation was exactly I immediately accepted the invitation.
My incredible husband suggested that he make the drive with me, and so we decided to head up to Michigan early. We found a campsite nearby, and spent our first night in Michigan in total awe of the fact that it was 9:30 pm, and still light out (Watervliet is on the very Western edge of the Eastern Time Zone). I’ll spare you the details of that portion of the trip, other than to say that it was fun, and I’m certain my husband will write some sort of “Fod Bloog” (what he calls his “food blogs”) about all of the interesting things he cooked on his camp stove.
Friday afternoon, after a quick visit to Lake Michigan, some local brew (coffee and kombucha)…
…and a nap in the hammock, Geoff dropped me off at camp. As I joked that he better send me a care package while I was away, I felt the anxiety butterflies frantically dancing in my stomach.
I took a deep breath, walked into the dining hall, got a hug from Jamie & Nic of Fit Approach (two women I have been in touch with for years, but never actually met) and my anxiety instantly melted away.
And it only got better from there.
To recap the entire 48 hours in written word would require a novel, so here are the highlights:
Ronora Lodge & Retreat Center was a quaint, secluded slice of land that truly did remind me of the 4-H camps I frequented as a kid. I personally stayed in an adorable cabin named “Grandmas House” with about 12 other women (there were approximately 50 of us spread out over a handful of cabins). My roommate was awesome (shout out to Missy), and in typical “summer camp” fashion, a large group of us stayed up until midnight laughing about things like competitive tetherball and Groupons purchased while under the influence. I’m not sure if my stomach hurt more from laughing or working out…
Sharing gorgeous runs through the Ronora grounds & trails Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with new friends (including an ornery miniature pony). Of course, walking/hiking was an option for our non running camp mates.
From a relatively easy to follow flow (coming from this “wannabe” yogi who doesn’t practice yoga nearly enough) to a HIIT & Flow workout that absolutely DESTROYED me (in the best kind of way!) I’ve been waiting for a “kick in the yoga pants” to get back to practicing, and this was indeed it.
…and vegan s’mores. I haven’t had a s’more since I became a vegetarian nearly 8 years ago.
I was able to squeeze in some SUP time, my latest obsession of the summer. I’m already pestering Santa for a stand up paddle board of my own…
So much incredible food. Deej, the owner and cook at Ronora Lodge was not only an amazing chef, but she created a buffet of food, three times a day, that seamlessly took into consideration everyone’s dietary needs (I ate like a vegan QUEEN!) while incorporating a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables grown on her own farm.
Speaking of food, this non-food-blogger got to try her hand at creating a fancy smoothie bowl …
A Killer HIIT Session.
…two of them actually. One outdoors, boot camp style (thanks Kasey), and one indoors, yoga style (thanks Flex & Flow).
Upon check in we were given a ridiculously amazing swag bag (actually, two of them) full of items from the camp sponsors, including (bear with me, they all deserve recognition): NOW Foods, Aftershokz, Takeya, Goodr, Bobs Red Mill, Great Lakes Gelatin, Jade Leaf Matcha, Grass Fed Coffee, ThinkNoo, Artisan Tropic, GimMe Snacks, Dandies Marshmallows (vegan marshmallows ya’ll…) Outdoor Products, & Suja Juice.
All of those highlights, however, were really just the icing on the cake.
The biggest takeaway from my weekend at EMPOWER Summer Camp were the real connections I made with other women.
You see, often when I attend blog or social media driven events, we are all glued to our phones. I mean, it’s expected…it’s our job after all. We introduce ourselves to each other with our blog titles or Instagram handles, as if our first names are simply a formality, and not an integral part of who we are. We discuss site stats and recent campaigns, Google algorithm changes and upcoming conferences.
I don’t know why – but EMPOWER Summer Camp was different. Very, very different.
Maybe it’s because not everyone in attendance was a content creator. Maybe it was the fact that we were surrounded by nature rather than stuck in conference rooms. But rather than SEO strategies, we discussed the realities of motherhood and postpartum depression. Rather than contemplating various Instagram schedulers we talked about the theory of the Saturn return and laughing over some of our less than stellar yoga moves. Phones were out for photos, sure, but for the most part we were all entirely disconnected from technology and social media, and instead were connecting with each other as human beings, face to face, distraction free.
I didn’t realize how badly my soul missed that…and needed that.
At one point during the weekend, we had “campfire stories” with four incredible woman who shared stories of personal struggle and achievement. Now- don’t get me wrong. I’m a science girl through and through. I like facts proven with concrete evidence and peer reviewed research articles. Yet, I also subscribe to the belief that the universe works in mysterious ways, and provides you with what you need, when you need it the most…if you open yourself up to it. And the personal stories and inspiration given by those four women spoke to me, in a way that brought me to tears. It was everything I needed to hear in that exact moment of my life, and it was as if I was put in that room on that day on purpose.
Specifically, the words of De Bolton. Her story is hers to tell, so I highly encourage you to follow her, but at some point she said that the mantra she used to get to where she is today, from an incredible low that many of us couldn’t even begin to imagine, were the words: “get over yourself.”
Stop believing that you aren’t good enough. Stop caring about what other people might think or say. Stop acting like your problems are the end of the world. Get over yourself. I realize that might sound harsh, but the lesson and the words were anything but – they were full of love and empowerment, and they were perfect.
I am still not sure I could put together concrete words to tell you why you should attend a summer camp (but I have another camp – though a vastly different one – to attend this weekend, so don’t worry, those words are coming) I can tell you that I left EMPOWER summer camp feeling so incredibly full. My heart felt full. My soul felt full. My self confidence felt full. I felt a sense of clarity and invigoration about my purpose that I haven’t felt in years.
And for that, I am forever grateful.
I cannot say thank you enough to the women of Fit Approach and to everyone who attended the 2019 Empower Summer Camp. I can’t wait to see you in Roanoke, VA next summer.