Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2013

Second Wind Asthma Camp is more than just a day camp where kids can learn strategies to control their asthma. It’s a place for them to connect and to figure out their goals in life.

The three-day camp, located at Dan Nicholas Park, has been inspiring and educating kids with asthma for eight years, ever since the project came under the care of Dr. Christopher Magryta of Salisbury and Touchstone Pediatrics.

Magryta calls the camp an experience for children from all walks of life.

“It makes sure everyone gets a chance to learn how to take care of themselves,” Magryta said.

The 17 kids who participated in this year’s program, which started Tuesday and wraps up today, are part of the 22 million Americans who suffer from asthma, a chronic inflammation of the airways that can make it difficult to breathe.

Gretchen McCall, a nurse working with Magryta, has helped organize Second Wind for six years and knows the schedule. She also knows how important the camp is to some of the kids. Many of the campers are from low-income households, which makes the free camp and the training and education it provides doubly important.

McCall also tries to get the campers thinking about the future. This year the kids created vision boards, cutting out photos and graphics they thought represented their goals and what they’d like to achieve. She said many of them didn’t have any goals for themselves, and she hopes the camp can help them figure that out.

Second Wind places most of its emphasis on healthy eating. McCall said if kids can stay healthy and eat healthy, their asthma is often easier to control. Second Wind offers free, healthy meals courtesy of Jersey Mikes and Chick-fil-A, teaches campers about nutrition and tries to give parents cooking tips, as well. Instructors teach about the importance of exercise and how nutrition plays an important role in their illness.

Magryta described the camp as an opportunity for kids to learn to do things differently from how they may be taught at a clinic, or at home. He called it a “whole-child approach to asthma.”

The camp includes lots of different activities, from sports games to a spray-off from a fire truck. McCall says they try to switch it up every year, but there are a few constants. One is morning yoga practice. The routine is taught by an instructor provided by The Forum and helps the kids learn relaxation and breath-control techniques.

Magryta’s nature hike is another annual tradition. He takes the kids out on the wooded trails at Dan Nicholas to teach them to think critically about how their health is affected by nature and what they can learn from observing it. Magryta said he believes most questions can be answered by looking at nature. The kids also learn about environmental triggers, as an attack can often be set off by pollens or grasses.

For the past four years, Dr. Erron Towns has also been giving the kids a short lesson on air quality. Paying attention to the air quality index teaches them to be aware of how the environment can affect their health and their asthma.

Second Wind likes to change up the schedule a little each year, as well, by hosting different activities and bringing in sports players. This year it enlisted Eddie Guessford, a coach at Erwin Middle School, to teach the kids how to play baseball.

Using a whiffle ball and a plastic bat Guessford and coach Chip Bryan taught kids how to hold the bat, swing and hit the ball. Then they divided into teams to play a loose game of baseball. It was hot and humid out, but the kids didn’t care as they tried to make it to home base before the teams switched out. McCall stood on the sidelines watching.

“If their asthma is controlled they can do anything else any kid can,” she said.

It’s Guessford’s first year helping out with the camp, but he plans to return. Guessford says he’s had kids on his teams at school with asthma or diabetes, and says they’ve told him they can’t participate in sports. He tries to change that attitude in his coaching.

“It’s a way to let them know, ‘Hey, you can do anything,’ ” he said

Guessford wasn’t the only first-timer. It was John Kemph’s first year as a camper. New to the area, he was looking for some fun things to do this summer and thought the camp sounded promising. Two days in, he had already learned a lot. Kemph says he now knows if he has problems with his asthma he needs to relax and focus on breathing, like he learned here.

Some campers, like Emily Giles, have been going for many years. This is Emily’s fourth year, and she looks forward to it every summer. She says she always enjoys the programs and has made some great friends.

Emily’s story captures the spirit of the camp — for the kids to be healthy and to realize they’re not alone.

Rebecca Rider is a Catawba College senior and an intern at the Salisbury Post

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