First, I want to apologize for jumping around a bit. I am about a month behind in chronicling my road trip. I only arrived home from my First Descents experience a week ago, but it was such a powerful experience I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.
I had first heard about First Descents (FD) through Susan Pultman, a patient resource navigator at Children’s Hospital, during treatment. Started by professional kayaker Brad Ludden, FD allows young adult cancer patients and survivors to go kayaking, mountain climbing, or surfing. It seemed like a good substitute for my postponed road trip, so I registered in base camp (basically their wait list) as soon as I could, and put kayaking at the forefront of my interests. I knew my mother was not going to be ecstatic about me trying to kayak while going through chemo (or at anytime really), but the fact that there are medical professionals at each camp would make it easier for the worrywart that she is.
My camp dreams for last summer were squashed after my embolism. I felt weak, and being on a blood thinner while trying a new and potentially dangerous activity, probably was not the best idea either. I was bummed, but they kept me in base camp and when they called me this spring about kayaking in Massachusetts, I eagerly pounced on the opportunity.
A week after I arrived home I boarded a plane and left again. My final destination was 9 Mountain Drive in Western Massachusetts. As I waited in the Starbucks line at the Albany airport I received a call from Patch, one of the camp directors who was waiting for me with two other campers at the baggage claim. After I found him and met the other campers Chanelle and Daniel, we were on our way. During the ride, Chanelle and I spoke hip-hop, and Patch explained that our introductions were basically negligible since we would all be dubbed with a nickname by the nights end any way. Daniel already had one in mind; he wished to be called Dervish. I would be calling him Dervs because my ignorant self did not know what a Dervish was and two syllables was just TME (it means too much effort, do not worry, I will explain).
I could not think of a nickname the entirety of the ride there. When I met everyone else at the house, most had already had their nicknames. When they asked me for one, I fell back upon what everyone calls me at home, Rotz or Rotzy. I was not happy with those for here (I do love them at home). Call me old fashion, but I believe a nickname is granted, not selected. After I selected a bunk, I sat down to speak with my housemates. We swapped some stories and origins, which led to the birth of a true nickname for me. My cardiac quandaries and my Philadelphia background earned me the name Rocky, the fighter.A talk with the medical staff was suitable affirmation that the nickname was a good choice for me.
After a nutritious, as well as delicious dinner and a rundown of how the week would proceed, most of us turned in for the night. Trying to sleep I thought about why the nicknames were necessary. When I got home from camp I realized why it was so helpful for me, and my ability to connect with these strangers enough to now call them family. Alexander Rotzal, is a shy and rather reserved person. Once you get to know him, get him to drop his guard, that's not the case. In the past all it took was one night of heavy drinking and some real talk to make me open up, but that is not an option any longer. FD gets around that guard without alcohol by disassociating one’s self from their formal identity. In this day and age, there is so much linked to one’s name, a Facebook, a blog, a job, etc. that people tend to tip toe around being themselves in fear of not living up to this person they portray themselves as on the internet or at work. Rocky is the goofy hip-hop head all of my friends have known for years, FD just gave him a name.