Five weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Power Soccer Family Camp organized by the United States Power Soccer Association (USPSA) for my second year in a row. Personally, I have been involved with the sport of power soccer for 5 seasons and have participated in a few tournaments, but I have never participated in anything like Power Soccer Family Camp.
The first thing I have to say about power soccer before we talk about camp is that it is a competitive sport played by athletes from around the world. These athletes train and play very hard. For anyone who has played the sport in the new Strike Force chairs, it is a challenge just to drive the chairs, which are much quicker than any other chair on the market. In addition to driving, power soccer requires a high level of complex thinking skills in order to spin a chair the opposite direction an incoming ball in order to kick or pass to a team mate in a small goal box with two players breathing down your neck or bring the ball up field and keeping your teammates and yourself in a triangle.
During camp, I was one of 33 power soccer athletes that participated in an array of drills and games that started at 9:00 AM and ended at 5:00 PM. The athletes came from the U.S. and Canada from all walks of life with varying skill levels ranging from the elite players (i.e. Team USA), to beginners who are new to power soccer. Many, if not most, of the athletes like me were college students in their 20s, however there were athletes who were just entering double digit ages and athletes who were in mid to late adulthood. The athletes also had various disabilities such as Arthrogryposis, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Cerebral Palsy, and Spinal Cord Injury.
One of the 33 athletes at camp was Christian Prugh who has been playing power soccer for 8 seasons and has been going to camp for several years. Despite having Arthrogryposis, Prugh plays power soccer in the USPSA conference, drives high performance RC cars, is involved with Sled Hockey, and enjoys watching power soccer just as much as he enjoys playing it. Prugh especially enjoyed the instruction that he and the others received from the staff at camp, which included several members of the USPSA Premier conference and Team USA.
"I think it's pretty cool because they are the best of the best in what they do and to share there knowledge with us campers is pretty awesome," said Prugh.
Other than the hours of instruction and fun games put on by the USPSA elite, there are many other special camp activities done each day. These activities included zip lining, a pontoon boat ride, swimming, a campfire, and cosmic soccer. One of the favorite and most memorable experiences of camp was cosmic soccer. Cosmic soccer is power soccer played under black light with neon court features such as the lines and goal posts, neon painted soccer ball, and players with glow sticks. The event with its glow and edgy music was enjoyed by players, parents, staff, and coaches alike.
One such coach was Jennifer Weatherford from my home team. Weatherford, who drove with me all the way to camp from San Antonio, Texas has been the head coach of the STRAPS Scorpions for 3 seasons. Jennifer having never seen that many power soccer players in one place was awestruck by the entirety of the camp experience and what she learned from it.
"It was the first time, I got to see so many power soccer athletes in one place and it was something special to be a part of", Jennifer said. "I am so excited to take the skills and drills I learned to my team for the upcoming season.”
All who have been involved in participating and putting on the camp including myself would agree that there is something special about power soccer family camp that keeps drawing in new people like Weatherford and keeps others like Prugh coming back year after year. Nearly everyone at camp including first years like Jennifer say that they will be back next year. Weatherford actually went further to say that next year she would hopefully bringing more athletes from her team to camp.
Power Soccer Family Camp in Maple Lake, Minnesota is a place like no other. No where else do you see such a large number of disabled people working hard trying to learn and working even harder trying to apply the knowledge they learned in games all while becoming friends with people from around the world. When you are at soccer camp you aren't just an adaptive sports athlete, supporter, or coach, but a camper having an experience that is truly like no other.
This experience is summed up best by the quote Prugh left at the end of our interview, "What keeps bringing me back to camp is the people I meet and the soccer of course, but just being at camp you can be yourself and play the sport that you love with 32 other athletes and make memories that last a lifetime.”