Blood clot brings Parkite closer to nature, children
November 10, 2006
A blood clot swelled in Tom Cammermeyer’s brain 36 years ago. The vessel coagulated enough to render him catatonic for almost a week.
The incident would dramatically change the direction of his life.
"I was unconscious for four days and when I woke up I lost part of my memory," Cammermeyer said.
Lost somewhere in the jolted hard-drive of his mind, those memories and feelings still have yet to emerge. If they had, he may never have formed the Norwegian Outdoor Exploration Center, which will celebrate its annual gala fundraiser next Friday at Deer Valley.
"They said I hated Norway, America and nature," Cammermeyer said. "I don’t remember any of that."
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The man isa role model of helping American kids through a Norwegian outdoor philosophy called "friluftsliv," which is translated as "free air life" or "nature life."
"I knew I had a second chance," he said.
Cammermeyer soon traveled to America, went to school in Maryland and Florida State before traveling back to Norway, his home country. What he once hated now became his driving passion.
"I wanted to care for children and nature," he said.
He traveled back to the States and started school at the University of Utah where he received a master’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism. In 1980, after a short stint in Colorado, he formed the Norwegian Outdoor Center in Park City.
"We’ve reached over 11,000 kids in the last 26 years," Cammermeyer said.
Helping the kids is what motivates him to continue the running a non-profit organization. Through friluftsliv, he feels he can influence kids in a positive way to enrich their lives.
"We de-emphasize stress and competition and emphasize a deep appreciation for nature," Cammermeyer said. "The kids learn to live an unselfish way of life. We go cross country skiing, snowshoeing and backpacking to learn to become part of nature."
The philosophy is based on many "old" cultures.
"It’s based on native cultures’ way of thinking: Native Americans, Eskimos, Sherpas (Nepal) and Samies (Laplanders from Northern Scandinavia)," he said.
Those people, Cammermeyer says, had a deep appreciation for the balance of nature. The philosophy goes back to the hunters-and-gatherers era, he said.
"Balance has a huge emphasis," he said, "learning the difference between need and greed. We learn to be in tune to what we purchase or consume and not abuse the natural materials.
"If we take a tree, then we should possibly plant two trees," Cammermeyer said. "All of nature has value. We as humans are equal and should not the dominating force. We teach them to be aware of, what can we give back to help her out?"
Over the years, Cammermeyer has observed the healing balm of nature on troubled kids. Recently, he took the friends of a 14-year-old boy, who was killed, on an outing.
In every adventure, Cammermeyer has the kids write down their feelings before and after the voyage. One child stated that he was "mad at everyone and the world." After the trip with Cammermeyer, the child wrote "We built a fort of snow, it’s so peaceful and serene. The world is a wonderful place," and "I love everyone."
"Mother Nature is so healing and so soothing," Cammermeyer said.
Cammermeyer hopes he will be able to reach as many kids as possible, so they might also experience similar emotions.
"This is such a pivotal point in the lives of these kids," he said. "All youth are potentially at-risk."
Simplification is also a lesson he tries to instill. Nature, Cammermeyer says, has a peace about it that forces people to become equals no matter what race, affluence or status they come from. He tries to instill some of these lessons into his nature students with hopes they will apply them at home.
"We are trying to take that back into everyday lifestyle. It’s so hard for people. Can we enjoy the journey in our own backyard? We can if we simplify," Cammermeyer said. "Mother Nature puts us on equal terms and we hope they are taking these things back with them."
It hasn’t been easy for Cammermeyer to make his non-profit organization a success, however.
"When I started, I had different part-time jobs and the budget was always negative zero," he said.
Since then, he has organized a staff to run it like a business. For a time, they have offered some programs to tourists to earn money to support the programs. That, however, has ended.
"We lost focus of our goal," Cammermeyer said.
He went back to his roots and once again focused on at-risk children only. The numbers have risen and so has Cammermeyer’s fulfillment.
"We’re reaching more kids now," he said. "Last year we reached 400 kids. So far, this year we’ve reached 1,100."
Cammermeyer wants to reach more. However, to do so, the Norwegian Center needs additional funds. So far, the Summit County Rap tax, and donations from the public have been huge for the center. Recently, the Norwegian Outdoor Center has also joined with the Swaner Nature Preserve. The preserve will aid in some of the administrative aspects of the center
"It’s freeing us up to focus on existing and expanding programs, potentially for adults as well," Cammermeyer said. "All the existing will continue or be enhanced."
For these programs to function, the center still needs help to attain its goal. Cammermeyer said he is privileged to join with Swaner and can see a larger potential for the center.
"For us to reach out more, we need to get volunteers and financial support," Cammermeyer said. "This will continue to grow, reaching out to potentially thousands of kids. This program with Swaner can reach out to all kids in all walks of life because they’re all at risk.
"We need support to provide for these kids," he said. "My goal is to never turn a kid away."
The Norwegian Outdoor Exploration Center will celebrate its 26th year and its new move to the Swaner Nature Preserve at its annual fundraising gala on Friday, Nov. 17 from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge. The dinner, live auction and dancing to the Joe Muscolino Band will support programs for at-risk-youth and grieving children. Tickets are $125/person. Seating is limited to 150 people. To attend, R.S.V.P. at 649-1767.