Camp Throwback lets adults relive excitement of their youth

Camp Throwback lets adults relive excitement of their youth

By Lora Abernathy

web1_CampThrowBack-logo.jpgCLARKSVILLE — Every potential investor Brittany Gibbons met told her Camp Throwback was a bad idea. One person called it the “stupidest” idea ever.

However, tickets to the adult summer camp sold out in less than 20 hours and the event has become so successful there is a waiting list and organizers are exploring ways to expand.

Now in its second year, Camp Throwback is a national event held near Clarksville at Camp Graham.

Sparked by the imagination of the 34-year-old author of “Fat Girl Walking,” Gibbons created the event as a way to connect in person with her readers — readers that total a half million.

Gibbons worked at a summer camp briefly after college. She grew up watching the movies “Meatballs” and “Hot American Summer” and thought, “I wonder if I could make a summer camp for adults,” with activities hearkening back to youth, but amenities suited to grown-ups, too, Gibbons said.

Instead of being met with excitement and financial support from likely patrons, she was met with one shut door after another.

Gibbons, from the Toledo area, spent the next two to three years saving money to launch the camp herself. Within a matter of hours, all the tickets for the inaugural Camp Throwback were gone.

“We had to add a session this year just to accommodate the wait list, so it turns out they were wrong. It’s amazing,” Gibbons said. “I also don’t let any of them sponsor the event. Just a little point of pride.”

What IS Camp Throwback?

Gibbons said Camp Throwback is a great escape for campers to leave the stress of adulthood behind and become 14 again.

“Who had a great camp experience? Not many people,” Gibbons said. “You know, you were uncomfortable, you were going through puberty, and you were nerdy, you were laughed at… I think we all just want to recreate something that we missed out on, only it’s 10 times better now.”

Campers can expect many of the same activities found at a kids’ summer camp, such as arts and crafts, field game races, swimming, archery and volleyball.

Campers must be at least 21 years old. Guests at the May 2015 event were from California, Florida, Colorado, Texas and as far away as Canada.

Damon Hardy, a network engineer from McKinney, Texas, and father of six, came to the first Camp Throwback in 2014 with his wife, Jodie. He said they felt immediately comfortable with the other campers and that’s why they came back this year. It’s just what they plan to do every May now.

“It’s nice to peace-out and get away from it all for a few days and reset your mind,” said Jenna Waltz, from Cleveland, who also is back for a second year at the camp.

The 2015 camp schedule has two sessions, one in May and one in August. The first session for 2016 is set for June.

The ‘underdog’ camp

Gibbons said finding a camp was the hardest part in getting Camp Throwback off the ground. She emailed 86 camps “this side of the country” and only two would allow her to bring alcohol on the premises — Camp Graham and one in the Adirondacks in New York state.

At a cost of $245, Gibbons said it would cost hundreds more to hold the event in New York. Plus, she wanted to give some love to her home state.

After Camp Graham officials told Gibbons yes, she visited the grounds.

“I walked around the camp and it looked like that underdog camp from a movie that had to beat the really ritzy camp at some sort of challenge, or (a camp that) might close or something, and I thought this is exactly what I wanted. It was perfect.”

From mom to author to adult summer camp owner

Gibbons always wanted to be a writer. She attended The Ohio State University but did not graduate. She became a wedding planner but hated it, and was fired after two years.

“I had kids and I thought, well, this will be it for me. I’ll just be a mom, stay at home, we’ll struggle just like my parents did and this will be my life,” she said.

While watching a morning talk show one day, she heard about a woman who was writing a blog and making a living.

“I thought, well, I could do that,” she said.

In 2007, she wrote about food but no one visited her site. She decided to use the site as a diary, writing about life as a young mom and struggles with being a wife, and it grew in popularity. Within the first year, she had 60,000 readers a month and her readership grew each year by 100,000.

In May, her first book was published by Harper Collins, and she is currently on a national book tour.

“It was so validating because I feel like for so many years I was keeping my head down and working, working when everybody else was taking sponsorship money and … I said no and I focused on people reading and … content, so I feel like it’s a really cool high-road payoff for me.”

The future of Throwback

Gibbons said they are often asked to add more dates or locations for Camp Throwback. She makes no money from the camp and they won’t add or expand unless she can keep it affordable.

The difficulty in adding more sessions at Camp Graham is that it’s a functioning summer camp for kids. She’s looked into buying a camp, but she said they’re either too expensive or “look like a meth den.”

Plus, Gibbons said she and her crew get along so well with the Camp Graham folks it would be tough to leave.

“I’m pretty partial to people who say yes to crazy ideas and make my dreams come true, so I’m sort of loyal in that way,” she said.

“This is one of the proudest things I do is this camp,” Gibbons said. “I just walk through it and can’t believe that it’s real.”

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