For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Zach Fisher, known as Little Running Bear to the Kawaga Nation. 2017 marks my thirteenth summer at Kawaga and fifth on staff. I’m here to check in with you all and provide some reflections from the shores… of The Mediterranean Sea!
I’m currently participating in the Maccabiah Games, which take place every four years in Israel. It is the third largest athletic competition in the world, bringing together thousands of athletes from dozens of countries in a plethora of sports and games. While I am competing for Team USA in swimming, am missing out on First Session back at Camp. I’m eager for the final four weeks, though, and to help lead the Waterfront and Miracle Ski programs. I’m grateful for Ty and Lauren, who have given me the opportunity to pursue this unique experience as well as make an impact at Camp as a counselor, possibly for the final time.
In addition to representing my country, I am also representing Camp Kawaga as it has been so essential to my development as an athlete, leader, and person. In fact, I would go so far as to say that without Kawaga, I would not have been able to achieve what I have in the sport of swimming. True, over the years I have missed out on over 100 weeks of traditional “training,” but instead I gained what I now recognize as invaluable: developing ambition as a sportsman to pair with empathy as a a leader and friend. I want to share some of the ways Kawaga has enabled me to thrive as an athlete at a high level.
Regarding goal-setting, Kawaga offers dimensions no summer sports league or workout regimen could match alone including those oriented as personal and group, process and result, and leadership and skill to name a few. What’s more, it provides us with tools to plan and track our progress – whether it be via Mawanda and Sachem points, weekly powwows, or contracts – a routine that only becomes more useful in realms beyond camp.
Kawaga practices what it preaches as braves truly relish the stress and spur of difficulties and challenges. In sports and in life, your son will plateau and face setbacks. But Miracle Dock’s mantra “never say ‘I can’t'” might as well be Kawaga’s because grit is second nature to all of us. If I had never been homesick in Chip 1, I may not have pushed through the culture shock of collegiate swimming during my freshman year at Penn. If I hadn’t persevered in dropping a ski – which took me eight weeks over two summers – I may not have had the drive to return for my sophomore season after not improving during the previous one. The disappointment of not making an ‘A’ team or not being elected a tribal officer allowed me to develop healthy coping skills that would prove useful when I didn’t make Penn’s conference championship team, for example.
The pure elation that comes with standing up in the storm to achieve those goals, in a stress-free environment where every camper and counselor share in each other’s successes and failures, is priceless. Crucially, embedded in Kawaga’s culture of virtue and manhood are key lessons in teamwork and leadership. For example, since it had been instilled in me to exude enthusiasm in situations like the Senior Ball ‘C’ field, it was instinctual how I ought to role model for the similarly marginalized Sprint Group at Penn Swimming. While the fabric of Kawaga Nation is sewn with sportsmanship, spirit, and enthusiasm, to me, it is held together by the bonds of fellowship. Nowhere else can you make such meaningful relationships at such an impressionable age.
At Kawaga, there is a tangible sense of community cultivated through conversations at meals, in the cabin, on the court, under the stars, and around the campfire. Whether serious or silly, they are always meaningful. Thanks to the example set by counselors, when Kawaga braves check in with each other, regardless of age, they are genuinely interested in how the other’s day is going – what they are striving for or struggling with. For my age group, the 2011 CITs, this persists throughout the offseason, even about “real world” joys and sorrows of things like school and job hunting. Away from our daily camp lives, we care about each other as if we are always together – like we are on the shores. The empathy that permeates Kawaga is a chief reason why it is so successful. As a captain for my senior year, it was important to me to try and promote friendships strong and deep among my teammates. Far from a coincidence, we finished 2nd in the Ivy League, our best performance since 1972.
True, “Being Kawaga” transcends sports and you can never take Kawaga out of the brave. But I believe that sports shouldn’t take the brave out of Kawaga if you can help it – a summer there may be unforgettable in ways you may not expect. I could go on and on about what Kawaga means to me but this mighty brave is headed into battle fare…