DU QUOIN — More than 100 limb-different kids will come to Du Quoin this summer to participate in a quickly expanding summer sports camp.
NubAbility Athletics Foundation, which will return July 16-19 to Du Quoin, has reached the milestone figure three years after starting the camp in Greenville with 19 children and seven limb-different coaches.
"It's crazy," said Jana Kuhnert, camp and event director, of the camp's growth. "I just don't know how else to describe it. It's exploded."
The camp has created a "buzz" in the limb-different community, said Kuhnert, with kids from almost 30 states registering, including five from as far away as California.
Du Quoin Mayor Rex Duncan said even though the camp makes a positive economic impact on the region, with campers and their families shopping, eating and staying at Southern Illinois stores, restaurants and hotels, the "spiritual impact" the campers leave with is far more important.
"They show us there's no such as thing as can't," Duncan said. "This is an example of the children raising the village instead of the village raising the children. They really do challenge all of us on how to overcome barriers that we have in our everyday life."
The camp has attracted more than 40 limb-different coaches who have excelled in their sport without limbs such as a leg, arm, foot or hand.
The volunteer coaches will provide instruction in more than 10 sports, including two new ones — swimming and shooting.
One of those coaches is Jared Bullock, who lost his right arm and leg in November 2013 when his military ATV ran over an improvised explosive device while he was serving in Afghanistan.
Bullock will be a strength and conditioning coach this summer, teaching the athletes how to use the weight room to make them "as strong and ripped as any other athlete," Kuhnert said.
"What's cool about Jared Bullock is what he's done in little over a year to bring his body back from a wounded warrior to a full-blown competitive athlete's body," Kuhnert said.
Hunter Cayll, a 19-year-old without hands who has qualified for top national shooting competitions, will offer a shooting demonstration at MorMad Farms to open up NubAbility Outdoors, an optional event participated in by about 70 percent of campers.
After Cayll's demonstration, the Du Quoin High School archery and fishing teams will teach the athletes how to shoot a bow and fish before a country dance closes out the first day's activities.
NubAbility also expanded to offer one-day sports clinics last year, including a baseball clinic in Florida sponsored by the Minnesota Twins.
A one-day clinic to be hosted by the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium is in the works, but has yet to be finalized.
Kuhnert said NubAbility is a one-of-a-kind camp, with no other organization preparing limb-different kids to play mainstream organized sports.
"For the first time, they get to let down their walls because they're being coached and instructed by coaches that look like them," Kuhnert said. "They've already walked that mile in their shoes, so there's no hiding their limb difference."
The camps were started by Jana's son, Sam, who was born without his left hand and became a Du Quoin High School and Morthland College pitcher before a shoulder injury ended his career.
Morthland has named the 22-year-old its pitching coach.
"Sam has been coaching his entire life," Jana said. "He's been an encourager and motivator. He's always been the heart and spirit of whatever team he's been on.
Jana said she's no longer amazed at what limb-different athletes are able to do because she's learned to expect them to do what others don't suspect they can.
"I think that's why we work so well," Kuhnert said. "Coaches that have been there, either walking in their shoes or parents who have raised a limb-challenged athlete already, we don't take it easy on them because we know what they're capable of."
The coaches challenge the athletes to do things they've been told they can't do or that they didn't believe they could do, creating many special moments as limb-different children turn a 'can't' into a 'can.'
"The cool thing about what we do is when you see the light come on in these kids' hearts and in their eyes and they come to expect a high level of performance out of themselves because they know they can do it," Kuhnert said.
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