Campers in Norway Shed Worries, Grow in Self-Acceptance Dog mushing with its speed and animal fury is a popular pastime at the camp. In a country renowned for its rugged beauty, the small town of Tana in eastern Norway stands out like a prom queen. Reindeer herds dash through mountain plains and fjords. Salmon dart in the Tana River. The majestic Rastegaissa mountain looms like a swarthy prince under the soft glaze of the midnight sun in the summer. All that beauty resonates with the three dozen or so teenagers and adults with intellectual disabilities who stay here for a week of outdoor fun, camaraderie and just plain chillin’. Beauty is not something the campers always get. Gunner Stangeland, 23, knows that. Playground bullies at school threw stones at him during recess. Then he was cruelly mocked in a video posted on YouTube. Work colleagues taunted him, too, and he had to quit his job. The helsesportsuka camp was another story. He delighted in the dog mushing, relaxed in the outdoor hot tub and pleasantly befriended so many campers that it was hard to remember everyone’s name. But they knew him. “I was a king,” he says of his stay. The Lions of Norway have held helsesportsuka for 34 years. Lions clubs from throughout Norway pay for the camp and transportation expenses, and Tana Lions and other volunteers supervise the canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, air rifle shooting, archery, hiking, fishing, campfires and the random, unpredictable tomfoolery, hijinks and revelry that erupt among campers. An overnight hike through the mountains includes berry picking and salmon fishing, followed by zesty salmon soup and fresh smoked salmon fit for a royal’s plate. If the hikers are lucky, in the morning one of them may grab a tree branch to gently poke and rouse the late dozers, as happened last summer, causing good-natured bedlam. Games at the camp summon fierce concentration and produce elation. Fishing gives campers a chance to untangle themselves from their worries and fears. Music in the evening is soothing. Leisurely bike rides provide a sense of freedom. Horseback riding never gets old. Children of Lions participate in the camp as helpers. The camp’s greatest gift is the memories it fosters.
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