There are things Devin Trottier doesn’t like to talk about. The 12-year-old is more stocky than fat but with a noticeably soft midriff. A thoughtful boy who enjoys playing goal for his hockey team, he grows quiet when asked what it was like being teased about his size in school. “It was terrible,” he says. Pressed to repeat what the kids called him, Devin hangs his head and fidgets. “I don’t think you want to put that in the magazine,” he says.
Fortunately for Devin, he’s found refuge at the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre
in Hamilton, where youngsters with a weight problem can experience the joys of a summer camp without the fear of being teased. Staff at the year-round counselling service, run by the Hamilton Health Sciences Corp. and McMaster University, had noticed that heavy kids tended to shun camp because they’re too embarrassed to take their shirts off to go swimming. So they set up a day camp 15 years ago, says Randy Calvert, the centre’s clinic manager, and as far as he knows, there’s nothing like it for overweight kids anywhere else in Canada. “A lot of people are missing an opportunity here,” he says.
“There’s a definite need to help these kids feel like they fit in.”
Counsellors focus on creating fun. They divide the campers into teams for their week-long program, and award points for physical activities and brain teasers. The stress is on keeping everyone involved. Snacks, served mid-morning and mid-afternoon, may be “spiders”-two round crackers with a peanut butter filling and eight short, pretzel-stick legs. Kids get three each, no more. Lunch could be chicken souvlaki on a pita-with three pieces of meat, each smaller than a ping-pong ball—and a measured
half-cup of fruit juice. The point is to underline the importance of proper portions, without lecturing.
Still, only so much can be accomplished in five days of swimming, sailing and games at various recreational sites around Hamilton. What’s important, says Calvert, is that the children have a good time, visit some enjoyable places they might want to go back to with their families, and pick up healthy habits along the way. The effort helps large kids feel better about themselves. “Everybody’s different,” Devin says. “You’ve got to respect who they are.” DANYLO HAWALESHKA
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