Before he had turned 5, Brennan Johnston had already had more than his share of disappointment and heartache in his young life. Only months before, what started out as a simple broken leg turned into tragedy when the brave 4-year-old had to face an amputation below the knee. Then, while being fitted for his first prosthetic leg—his “Super Power Leg”—he was told that he had to be at least 8 years old to participate in the adaptive camps that are available for children dealing with limb loss. He couldn’t imagine waiting nearly 4 years to meet, play with and get to know others who had found themselves in similar situations. And neither could his father, Brian. That’s when AMPUCAMP was born.
“Driving home and talking about it, I looked at Brennan in the backseat and could just see him deflate,” Brian recalls. “Then I asked him if he remembered a line from the movie Robots: ‘See a need, Fill a need!’ I said, ‘We can make our own camp—one where everyone is invited.’”
Of course, Brian, a speaker, fitness professional and best-selling author (he was co-author and contributor for the Living in Abundance series, in which he wrote Finding Your Fitness Purpose), realized that organizing such an event would be a major undertaking, but he saw the potential in bringing together not only amputees of all ages, but also their families for a day of support, encouragement and fun. For two years, he slowly worked on AMPUCAMP, making plans, speaking to potential partners and figuring out the best course of action for the inaugural program. “The more we talked about it, the more it gained momentum,” he says. Finally, on Sunday, Aug. 9, the first “live event” was held at Chastain Horse Park in Atlanta. Thirty people participated in the free 2-hour camp—11 of them were amputees, ranging in age from 7 to 68 and all at different stages of learning to live with the loss of a limb.
“Some of the amputees were still early in the grieving process,” Brian says. “Others were veterans of the process who were on their fourth prosthetic leg. And that’s exactly what I envisioned it would look like. It gave Brennan and everyone else the chance to see and be with others who are just like them. It gave them a chance to learn from their peers.” It also brought Brian the opportunity to watch his son, now 7, be a shining example for his newfound friends, running, jumping and having a good time, and encouraging them to do the same.
While the children rode horses and enjoyed arts-and-crafts projects, the parents, spouses and older participants engaged in roundtable discussions, talking about everything from high-tech prosthetics to the range of emotions that everyone personally affected by an amputation goes through. For Brian, including family members of amputees in those discussions and giving them the chance to network with each other is one of the most important elements of AMPUCAMP, as they too need someone to turn to as they grapple with the loss. It’s something he would have welcomed as he watched Brennan face the unimaginable. At the time, he often asked himself, “What do other people do in this situation? Who do they talk to for support and encouragement? How do they handle things emotionally, physically, socially, financially? Where do they go for help?” Now they have AMPUCAMP.
Unlike most camps, AMPUCAMP will be held more than once a year. In fact, Brian intends to hold quarterly events so there is ongoing coverage. “Accidents happen all the time,” he says. “People going through this need to know that there’s something available for them soon—not a year down the road.” In addition, plans are in place to make the events longer and feature more exciting activities, including sports. And in the future, Brian would like to see the AMPUCAMP concept franchised throughout the country, bringing resources and hope to as many people as possible. “Whether you’re 2 or 102, everyone is welcome,” he says.
In his darkest hour, Brian Johnston couldn’t picture where Brennan’s journey would take him and his son. But his faith allowed him to see a silver lining. “There’s a blessing on the back side of this,” Brian concludes. “There really are no accidents. There’s a greater reason for everything—you just have to be willing to look for it. Believe me, it’s there.”
For more information, visit www.ampucamp.org.
AMPUCAMP Makes Its Mark
Even before the first event was held on Aug. 9, Brian Johnston was eager to get the word out about AMPUCAMP. He entered the organization in an online contest called CommuniCause, which allowed the public to vote for their favorite charity to win a $25,000 Social Media Makeover. While AMPUCAMP did not win the grand prize, the buzz about this new organization caught the attention of people nationwide and touched their hearts. By the end of the contest, AMPUCAMP achieved a “Top 10 Most Popular Charity” rating, landing in the No. 7 spot. This accolade placed AMPUCAMP alongside some of the country’s most acclaimed charities, including Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.