McKenzie River Youth Runner Camp
The first McKenzie River Youth Runner Camp was held this last week (6/19-24) and I had the honor of being a camp counselor for the week. It was quite the experience and although some improv and quick thinking was required (with it being the first time we’ve hosted this camp and all), it was a very fun, chill and light way for youth runners to get to know fellow racers and have a low stress time with running.
Driving down to the camp along the McKenzie Highway, it’s hard not to notice the towering hills and ridges that surround the road and the river that runs along it. Though much of the landscape is scarred from the Holiday Farm Fire of 2020, there is a gorgeous resilience of the landscape still present as the low vegetation and other undergrowth is coming back in full. Pulling into the camp (located conveniently right off the highway), you’ll notice much of the scars in the valley are hard to find, with most of the landscape in and around camp untouched. The beautiful backdrop is not the only thing that steals glances, as one of the first things you see in the camp is the large main hall located in the center of the area. This, I would later come to find out, is Jim Schmit hall, a multipurpose cafeteria, workspace and primary meeting area. Surrounding the hall were various cabins, fields and basketball courts. Little did I know the facilities that the Youth Runner camp was being hosted at, used to be an elite basketball academy, where the best youth basketball players would come to play, train and learn. Despite it being a former basketball academy, the facilities were more than enough to provide lots of use and entertainment for our camp, along with a very friendly and hardworking kitchen staff that kept us fed.
The primary daily activities were a variety of things meant to keep the kids occupied and having fun. Many many games were played in our free time, like ultimate tag, capture the flag, bump, basketball, marco polo in the pool and ping pong to name a few. Though lots of non-running related activities were had, the more structured and scheduled affairs were nearly all about running. Each day included a very light shake out in the morning. These began with dynamics and activation, led by our camp director Nick Slenning. In the afternoons were the second, longer run, in which kids and counselors grouped up and went the pace and distance that worked best for them. All of the shakeouts were held on a pleasant 1km loop around camp, with much of the longer runs, being located in gorgeous spots nearby. On our second full day of camp, the kids explored the Tokatee golf course, a historic place for the University of Oregon team, who used to practice and hold Pac 8s on the course during the Prefontaine era. A long run along the McKenzie River trail on our second to last day was beautiful and allowed most of our campers to run farther than they had before. Our final day of camp concluded with a friendly low stakes race that included both a 3k and 5k option, meant to give the kids a challenge to look forward to at the end of the week.
Other running, but non-physical, opportunities were also had. We emphasized and aided the kids in using running journals that were provided, setting goals and tracking how they felt. Part of the techniques they were taught came from Gonzaga head coach, Pat Tyson, who was able to zoom in and deliver an engaging talk for the kids about avoiding burn out and having fun with running. Pat wasn’t the only big name to chat with us though, as sub 4 miler and highschooler (now a senior) Connor Burns, had enough time to answer questions (of which there were many) and spend some time mingling and getting to know a few of the kids. So much happened it was admittedly hard to keep track of, but other highlights included an extremely water fueled prank war, many s’mores by the campfire and custom fun awards for the campers to finish things off. Though it was our first time at this camp, it was a most definite success and was a wonderful opportunity for hard working middle and high school runners, to take some of the pressure off from their seasons and learn to kick back, run for fun and get to know one another.