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Camp Run-a-Mukers help with Boxtel’s wish

By Sue Gray
Sopris Sun Correspondent


Courtesy of TheValleyInsider.com 

Imagine a world where dreams come true. That’s the world being created by the visionary children of Camp Run-a-Muk, an after school and summer camp in Carbondale. Last week they celebrated the realization of a wish made by a special Roaring Fork Valley resident, Amanda Boxtel, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in 1992

For the past 21 years, wheelchair-bound Boxtel has dreamed of walking again. It was a dream shared by many, including Jennifer Soucie who taught preschool with Boxtel before her accident. Believing in the power of intention, they created a ritual of envisioning Boxtel walking, which they kept to nearly every day at 11:11a.m.

Last year, Soucie the owner/director of Camp Run-a-Muk, invited Boxtel to visit the children, tell her story and share her vision of being able to walk again. Soucie said Boxtel actually got out of her wheelchair and crawled on the floor with the children. “She showed them that her legs didn’t work,” Soucie said, “and that made a big impression.”

Recalling the visit, 11-year-old Sebastian Arreolla said “The first time I met Amanda, I was surprised because when most people get hurt, they get mad about it and she wasn’t… she always had a smile on her face. That’s what I loved about her.”

“They all loved her,” Soucie said, “and she loved them back and they could feel that love.”

After Boxtel told the kids about the robotic walking device she sometimes used as part of experimental therapy for people who’ve lost the use of their legs, and expressed her wish to own one so that she could walk every day, the kids decided to help her achieve that goal.

Will Rose (12) and Maya Lundgren (10) spearheaded the effort to come up with fundraising ideas and all the kids helped make and sell friendship bracelets, lemonade and artwork featuring footprints of the younger children created by stepping in paint and walking across a piece of paper.

“I told the kids I’d match whatever they made,” said Soucie, “and within a few months I had to put in $1,000!”

Soucie decided to create a website to help the kids further their fundraising efforts, and last December ImagineXO.com was born. The XO stands for Ekso Bionics, the company that makes the wearable robotic suit that resembles an exoskeleton. The website tells Boxtel’s story and that of the kids dedicated to granting her wish to own an Ekso suit. It also features a link to a donations site.

But for Boxtel and the children at Camp Run-a-Muk, it wasn’t just about the money. The kids also participated in using their imagination to envision Boxtel walking again. Boxtel believes all that collective energy has power, and what you send out into the universe comes back to you. When Australian-born Boxtel brought a boomerang to Camp Run-a-Muk, it became a symbol of the power of manifesting your dreams.

Boxtel and Soucie share the belief that love has power, too. The children’s love and desire to help Boxtel was soaring out into the community and the world, and coming back in the form of donations. With the help of ImagineXO and other benefactors, Boxtel’s wish was getting very close to becoming reality. “You’ve held this dream and vision with me,” Boxtel told the children, and promised that when she got her Ekso suit, they would get to open the package.

On July 16, 2013, that promise was fulfilled, along with Boxtel’s wish for the ability to walk again. A ceremony was held at the Carbondale Recreation Center that included a speech by Boxtel thanking the children for helping her achieve her dream, and a rendition of Alicia Keys’ “This Girl Is On Fire” sung by camper Sebastian Arreolla, with the other campers joining in on the chorus. Then as the misty-eyed gathering of parents, friends and community members looked on, the kids tore the gift wrapping off the big box containing Boxtel’s very own bionic walking device.

With the help of an Ekso Bionics physical therapist and two trainees, Boxtel put the suit on and within minutes she was walking through the lobby doors and down the sidewalk. The device works by sensing tiny body movements and turning them into strides using motors in the suit’s hip and knee joints. With continued use, it actually increases physical ability as well as alleviates the pain, swelling, and bladder and bowel dysfunction often associated with paralysis.

Boxtel flashed her famous smile as she strolled down the sidewalk to the cheers and tears of the onlookers. The happy group of young campers followed close behind, in awe of the whole experience.

“I’m just amazed,” said camper Will Rose. “A year before it was just a dream and now it’s a reality.”

Stella Shipman (12) was one of the campers involved in raising money but who had never even met Boxtel before the event at the recreation center said “When I saw her, it made me realize how it would feel if I couldn’t walk and what it would be like to walk for the first time again. I was happy for her.”

“The bigger picture is the children have a chance to learn that giving is its own reward,” said camp director Soucie, “They get to see their efforts in the spirit of love, hope and giving come full circle.”

In a follow-up interview at Camp Run-a-Muk with Shipman, Lundgren and Arreolla, along with fellow campers Coleman Straeter (6), Elijah D. Brogdon (9) and Zaida Leslie ( 6), it was evident that philanthropy has now become a passion.

Through continued fundraising and creative envisioning, they hope to send local X-Games athlete Sam Ferguson, who is also paraplegic, to a surf camp for disabled people in Costa Rica, “because he grew up in Hawaii and loves to surf.”

They also intend to help 9-year-old fellow camper Parker Wilson, who can’t walk due to cerebral palsy, by giving her a trip to the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida, “because she just loves chimpanzees and orangutans!”

Lundgren summed it up by saying “We’re trying to help people make their dream come true.”

For more information, please visit camprunamuk.net, imagineXO.com and eksobionics.com.

The Valley Insider’s video coverage of this event is available at www.soprissun.com/gallery-videos/130725-boxtel