MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Summer camp season is in full swing in Minnesota. For most kids it’s about fun – for 100 kids in central Minnesota, it’s about normalcy.

They have a chronic disease 1% of the population has, and kids from around the Midwest are finding unprecedented fun in Maple Lake, Minnesota.

On the shores of one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes, the fun has begun. That’s pretty standard for summer camp, but these kids’ lives are not standard.

The campers have celiac disease, a lifelong illness triggered by food with gluten.

Skylar Smallman is a camp counselor and former camper.

“The other night in my cabin, a lot of the girls were talking about what it was like when we were first getting diagnosed, because sometimes doctors don’t know that it’s celiac.”

“My stomach was hurting, I would go to the bathroom a lot and my parents just brought me to the hospital and they figured out I have celiac disease,” explained one camper from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

This Minnesota camp is one of 15 in the U.S.– the only other in the Midwest is Michigan.

“No gluten is allowed on campgrounds, and I find it really nice because nothing is cross-contaminated,” said Mollie Allen from Mahtomedi. “I can eat everything here and it makes me feel really happy cause I get hungry a lot.”

A mother of three celiac children, Elizabeth Roach helps coordinate this weeklong affair.

“It’s like therapy for them. They get to be kids and they don’t always get to do that. They get to relax. They get to take that stress away from them,” Roach said.

“That’s what our whole mission is here: just to let them have a normal camp experience,” she added.

And that starts with lunch. The staff purposely selects meals that these kids don’t normally get to eat. On the day WCCO visited, they were having a modified version of chicken noodle soup, mac and cheese, cookies and brownies. They are truly experiencing gluten freedom.

“It’s great, honestly, and it’s the best part of this camp– and that’s why this is the best camp in the world,” said Conan Blair of St. Paul.

It’s freedom at its finest.

“Nobody judges you for you. You’re gluten-free, everyone here is gluten-free and it’s normal to be gluten-free when you are here,” Allen says.

Camp is over for this year, but you can register for next year. To learn more click here.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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