Former RHS standout Lawrence learns off the court at Delaware

University of Delaware senior Rebecca Lawrence, a Ridgefield High graduate, has applied some of the lessons she learned while volunteering at a summer camp to her basketball career.

University of Delaware senior Rebecca Lawrence, a Ridgefield High graduate, has applied some of the lessons she learned while volunteering at a summer camp to her basketball career.

Mark Campbell / University of Delaware / Contributed photo

Rebecca Lawrence took a leap into a new experience.

Lawrence, a senior forward on the University of Delaware women’s basketball and a former All-State player at Ridgefield High, was looking for volunteer opportunities as she pursues a career in physical therapy. She was sitting with her academic advisor when an opening with the MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) Summer Camp popped up. While it technically wouldn’t count towards required physical therapy hours, the camp incorporated elements of both physical therapy and Lawrence’s disability studies minor.

“I added this disability minor to try and spark a passion towards a certain population, before I didn’t really know what type of group I wanted to work with, and I succeeded in that,” Lawrence said. “The camp, it showed me that I do want to work with people with disabilities; that is definitely a path I want to follow with PT.”

Muscular dystrophy is a group of genetic diseases that cause progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. The severity varies from person to person, but the MDA Summer Camp strives to provide traditional summer camp activities to children with muscular dystrophy who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate.

Volunteers are generally paired one-on-one with campers, but during her first summer Lawrence was a “floater,” assigned to help another volunteer with a young girl with myotonic dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy that affects the ability to relax muscles, along with many other organs in the body.

“She required a lot of energy,” Lawrence said. “She was non-verbal, required diaper changes. She could walk, but she would drag her feet a lot, so we had to be behind her to make sure she didn’t fall. She couldn’t really interact with others. That made it difficult to participate in any activities. What occupied her the best was music.”

While the camper’s condition made it challenging for her to participate in a lot of activities, Lawrence and the other volunteers played music and took her on walks. About three days in, Lawrence experienced a moment that made her want to come back to the camp for a second summer.

“I was cutting up her food and feeding her, and she just stood up and went into my lap and sat down. I continue feeding her and a second later she stands up, turns around and faces me and gives me a hug,” Lawrence said. “The whole time we hadn’t really seen much interaction between people with her, and that was the first time she was acknowledging me as someone who is taking care of her, or just really any type of social connection. So that was really awesome.”

Lawrence’s second summer volunteering at the camp provided a new challenge. Her camper, who had congenital muscular dystrophy, was able to operate her own motorized wheelchair but required assistance with diaper changes, a feeding tube, and monitoring an assisted breathing machine and heart rate monitor at night. Lawrence was struck by the positive attitude the girl and the other campers showed, despite the many challenges they face.

“No one saw their disability as something that held them back,” Lawrence said. “They were all really happy to be there, really excited. Just wanting to try and do everything.”

She describes the goal of the camps as “trying to create an environment that says anything is possible.” While she couldn’t support the weight of a fishing pole, Lawrence’s camper really wanted to go fishing. The volunteers were able to prop the pole in her lap so she could hold it, and eventually catch four fish.

The experience also has helped Lawrence grow as a member of Delaware’s basketball team.

“Where I’ve seen her really blossom is in her leadership role,” Delaware head coach Natasha Adair said about Lawrence, who averaged a career-best 5.8 points per game last season. “I see her more sure of herself and more confident in her approach. And I think it’s because if she can work with these young girls who face some different difficulties and challenges in life, and they still approach things with a positive attitude and give it their all, I think it translated to her in the sense of ‘I can, I will, and I’ll do more.’ So, it’s just great to see the growth.”

Adair holds community service as a pillar of her program — in addition to academics and athletic excellence.

“We want to be ambassadors. We want to be the example,” Adair said. “It also helps us understand the importance of being that role model and being that big sister that so many people can look up to.”

The Delaware women’s basketball program tries to do a community service event or project every month. This year, the Blue Hens implemented a system in which the different classes (seniors, juniors, etc.) take turns picking the service for each month — the approach has fostered a sense of ownership among the players.

For Lawrence, the MDA was taking it one step further.

“MDA was the first main thing that I chose to do independently,” Lawrence said. “I just decided to do it on my own, which I think was a big step for me, honestly.”

“We obviously have things that we want to do for our program, and how we want to grow and thrive academically and athletically, but everything we do is selfless,” Adair said. “It’s for a bigger picture.”

This article ran Oct. 17 on the University of Delaware’s UDaily website. It is reprinted here with permission.