Sunday, April 28, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest Magazine / On Fitness

Getting Physical: A different kind of summer camp aims to shape winners for life

Byron Strang is realistic about the likely reason he went to summer camp that first year.

"I was in kindergarten or the first grade — and I think my parents just wanted to get me out of the house."

This wasn't just any camp, however. The Physical Education Summer Camp at Central Washington University in Ellensburg bucks the trend of specialized, ultra-competitive sports camps. And it dovetails with a growing emphasis in progressive PE classes and the health community at large, on physical activity over "exercise" per se, to help fend off conditions linked to inactivity: obesity, diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart disease.

"Most sports camps really attract people who are already skilled, and they do just one thing," says Steve Jefferies, a professor in Central's Dept. of Physical Education, Health Education and Leisure Services who started the camp 14 years ago. "We try to stimulate their interest in being active."

Though all participants are taught swimming, juggling and unicycling (Jefferies runs a unicycling club in Ellensburg), other activities vary by grade level. Young campers, starting with those going into the first grade, do more rhythmic and gymnastic activities; older ones, up to eighth-graders, can take field trips for hiking, river rafting and rock climbing.

Much of the time, it's their first exposure to archery, karate or fencing, which levels the playing field. When all are beginners and each is about as good as the other, trying can become easier.

"They also learn," Jefferies says, "that the reason people are good at things is because they practice at it — it's not something you're born with."

Kelly Walster, 14, of Randle in Lewis County had enjoyed previous horse camps but liked PE camp better for its variety of activities and small, grade-level groups (no more than 20 in each), which helped campers get to know each other. She discovered she liked the challenge of fencing and considers pursuing it one day. Interestingly, what attracts her is that it doesn't come easy: "It just takes so long to learn. It's something you have to work at."

Bowling, golfing, snorkeling, weight training and racquet sports also are included, giving each camper a chance to find something to enjoy.

Some kids who come are very athletic, Jefferies says, while "others seem to like being active but aren't necessarily competitive in the same way that's required in many school activities." A number of kids don't like team sports, he adds. "We'll still do some, but we try to show kids that physical activity is important and you can do it in a variety of ways."

At week's end, campers receive a certificate — no awards — and each group demonstrates an activity to parents, who often say to Jefferies, "Why don't you organize one of these camps for us?"

Many campers return year after year.

"I enjoyed it so much," says Strang, who's now 19 and a counselor at the camp. "I got a chance to get exposed to sports and PE in a way that's not like the normal PE, like running laps. I got a bunch of experience out of that PE Summer Camp that was never duplicated when I took PE at school.

"I liked that there's no competitiveness in it. We play competitive games and — I realize this now more as a counselor — they're not really win-lose kind of games." With the younger groups, he says, "We teach some kind of motor skill, like kicking a ball, then give them a chance to use it in a fun way."

The repercussions of such an approach can be heady. Strang attended the camp eight straight years before returning as a counselor, and now attends CWU — with plans to be a high-school teacher.

This CWU Physical Education Summer Camp is July 22-26 and costs from $140 to $275, based on grade level and whether the camper commutes or overnights at a university residence hall. For information, call 509-963-2241, go to or write Summer Camp, Physical Education Dept., 400 East 8th Ave., Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA 9896-7572.

More camps

• Committed to Kids, a pediatric weight-management program that's part of the 20/20 Lifestyles clinic at Bellevue's PRO Sports Club, is adding Camp Pro this summer. The five-week program will teach normal-weight and slightly overweight children age 9 to 14 about healthful nutrition, exercise and lifestyle habits. Weekday sessions are from 1 to 3 p.m., and a parent must attend educational presentations each Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. It's June 24 to July 26; cost is $575. Details: 425-861-6218.

• In conjunction with research during the school year, some scholarships are being offered to Camp Deer Mouse 2, a Massachusetts camp designed by a doctor for children 7 to 18 with Type 2 diabetes. The full camp is July 21-Aug. 2, and a weekend session is June 7-9. Both are at Camp Kingsmont in the Berkshire Mountains, which also has weight-management camps (using the same program) throughout the summer. For information: 877-347-3966,,

• One national directory of sports and weight-loss camps can be found at

Boning up

The North American Spine Society, which has a Back to Health theme this month, is offering two new handouts about the causes of osteoporosis and simple steps individuals can take to prevent it. For "Preventing Osteoporosis" and "Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?" call 877-774-6337 or go to

May days

Wednesday is National Walk to Lunch Day. For details go to

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached at 206-464-8243, or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Past columns can be found at


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