Fun and Learning at Camp Bluebonnet

Camp Bluebonnet at Peaceable Kingdom
By: Todd Martin
Across rolling hills and dense oak thickets, children and teens swam, made crafts and played in the shade of a pristine retreat center along the Lampasas River.
The 180-plus kindergarten through 12th-graders experienced camp life at Variety’s Peaceable Kingdom Retreat south of Killeen near Youngsport.
Camp Bluebonnet, which concluded Friday, looked like any summer camp with the exception of the medical staff, a well-provisioned snack cart and a song about self-regulation and carb intake.
The annual gathering brings together children with Type 1 diabetes along with siblings and friends and a host of committed volunteers.
It gives campers a chance to bond with others who are part of a lifelong club that requires regular insulin injections and blood sugar monitoring to stay healthy.
The specialized camp at the specialized retreat center draws participants from a broad swath of the middle of Texas concentrated in Austin and Round Rock as well as Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple and Belton.
On Thursday, campers took turns in their grade level-specific groups to hear from a special guest who felt right at home in the diabetic community.
Buddy Carlyle, a retired 20-year Major League pitcher, now on the Los Angeles Angels’ coaching staff, shared stories of training and competing as a professional athlete while managing his own Type I diabetes.
At times, during his series of talks with students, the big leaguer morphed into a camper himself, quizzing children about the kind of insulin they use, how “feeling low or high” affects them and their preferred snacks.
While his work in the Angels’ baseball farm system ramps up in the summer, Carlyle, now an Austin-area resident, said this invitation was too important to pass up.
He told campers of his experience, in 2009, watching his body deplete through weight loss and his 90-mile-per-hour fastball lose speed, eventually leading to a hospital stay and diagnosis. He lost 20 pounds in a week.
But, Carlyle said, that was not the end of his baseball career, but a shift that took him back to the minor leagues and also a new lifestyle of insulin injection and careful diet monitoring.
He made it back to the big leagues, where he played another nine seasons before retiring to coaching in 2016.
At Camp Bluebonnet, students move to activities alongside medics and former campers 18 or older who are “campers in training.” They also experience medical education and get a doctor visit during lunch.
For participants, it’s a welcome opportunity to have fun at camp and not be the one with the insulin pump and special snacks.
“I like all of it,” said Damien Washington, soon to be a seventh-grader at Rancier Middle School. “I’m making friends and hanging out.”
He said he especially enjoyed time in the pool, on the ropes course, playing kickball and “farm time” with animals.
“It’s cool to see friends I made last year. I love the atmosphere,” he said, “the natural environment and all the people. It’s a calm environment.”
Cyniya Coggins, going into sixth grade at Smith Middle School said she enjoyed the variety of activities and the commonalities with other campers.
“It’s not just one activity, it’s a whole bunch,” she said, describing the games, the pool, the waterslides and the walks up and down the hills.
There are times at school, she said, when friends ask questions like ‘is diabetes contagious?’ (It’s not.). There are curiosities, she said, about her regular visits to the nurse for medicine.
“I’m normal like everyone else,” she said. “At camp, everyone is like me.”