KINGSTON — At the wheel of the 30-foot pontoon boat, Stewart Matheson was trying to get to where the stripers were biting at Lake Texoma.
At the front of the white boat, Izzy Mauldin was trying to get back to life before Crohn's disease.
Izzy, 11, of Oklahoma City, leaned her head back, closed her eyes and folded her arms across the red vest coloring the yellow Camp Cavett T-shirt.
On this day, she was among about 180 outpatient children — primarily from The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center — with life-threatening and chronic illnesses at the camp. They come from Wednesday through Sunday. Thursday they can fish for stripers, and Saturday is the fish-for-anything derby.
Among other things, Crohn's, an inflammatory bowel disease, draws on Izzy's energy, she said. But her will is strong, like that of the other children around her on the boat.
This fourth-grader just wants to regain as much of the life she had before the disease as she can. Like that day she went fishing with her dad at Lake Hefner and “I caught my first sand bass.”
Camp Cavett also is a way to adjust and enjoy life as it is currently.
“I closed my eyes on the boat because it feels good with the wind. It just makes me happy,” she said, as from the radio came the lyrics, “Life's a dance you learn as you go.”
“Here at the camp I'm getting to see everyone who has these different diseases, and I know that I'm not alone.”
On the other end of the boat, about 10 minutes into fishing, Kacey Guerro-Hawkins, 14, of Oklahoma City, starts reeling in a striper.
In her three or four previous trips to Camp Cavett, she'd caught fish, but never one this big. The girl who a few years ago had surgery for a brain tumor and has since had hip surgery was determined to land this striper.
“He came up and went back down, and I looked at the water and said, ‘You're not getting away from me,' and then I tried to reel him up really fast, and I got him,” Kacey said with a smile.
That grin isn't rare.
“Apparently, in my cabin, I'm the cabin clown,” she said. “I like to make people laugh and feel good inside.”
A lot of people have that goal at Camp Cavett.
‘A bunch of angels'
Each boat has at least one counselor, a boat captain and a helper.
Matheson, 58, of Edmond, captain of the 30-foot pontoon, is joined by his brother, Kelly, 49, a child-at-heart who also lives in Edmond.
“After the first year we were here, we looked at each other and both determined this was not something we were going to miss,” Stewart Matheson said. “We were definitely coming back.”
So, this is the third year they have brought his boat to Texoma for the camp. They arrive on Tuesday and stay the week. Stewart Matheson has his own business. His brother takes vacation time.
And Kelly Matheson puts each minute of that vacation time to good use, working hard for every laugh — whether dancing to '80s music or delivering lines such as “This looks like a good place to catch fish. There's water.”
“When they arrive in the morning, you stand here and you see a bunch of angels walking down that walkway,” he said. “It's such a blessing for us to get to be a part of their lives.”
Michela Thompson, 15, of Yukon, would say she's the one who receives the blessing.
With turquoise polish on her fingernails and blue polish on her toenails, Michela admits she was wrong a few years ago when her mother suggested she give the camp a try.
When Michela was only 3, she was a kidney transplant recipient, and the donor was her mother, Melanie Thompson, a nurse. Since then, Michela has had a few other health issues. She doesn't complain about those.
She first thought the camp would just be one more place “where I was different.”
It was her fourth or fifth camp.
“I realized this was where I fit in,” Michela said. “I meet all sorts of friends. I plan to stay in touch with them for the rest of my life. They're inspirational to me because they go through the exact same things I go through, even if they don't have some of the same diseases that I do.”
When she wasn't dancing on the boat, she was cheering others on, including a child in another boat who had caught a large striper.
Michela yelled “Great fish!” and clapped.
“I guess I do that because they did something well and I wanted to congratulate them on that,” she said. “That's a theme I've learned here and a theme I've learned in life. When somebody does something cool, you've got to clap for them because it's an accomplishment.
“And everything here at Camp Cavett is an accomplishment worth clapping about.”