Like most 7-year-olds, Adriana Olvera loved to explore. So one day, while her parents were at work, she put on a pair of flip-flops and went outside to play in the backyard of her family’s new house in Fresno.
The yard was full of brush and weeds, some of which her father had put into a pit and burned, said her mother, Denise Olvera. When Adriana stepped in the pit that day, she discovered some of the flames hadn’t been fully extinguished, burning her feet.
The incident forced Adriana off her feet for several months, and she had to make frequent visits to a burn center. Today, while she does not experience many physical problems with her feet – she’s a three-season athlete at Hoover High – Adriana’s burn is “more of a mental injury,” her mother said, with permanent scars to remind her of what happened eight years ago.
“I was scared, and I didn’t know what was happening or what I had done when I got burned,” said Adriana, who’s now 15. “But it’s changed me and made me grow as a person.”
I was scared, and I didn’t know what was happening or what I had done when I got burned. But it’s changed me and made me grow as a person.
Adriana Olvera, 15
That wasn’t the only experience that’s changed her. After eight years at Champ Camp at Wonder Valley Resort, the high school sophomore was invited to attend the International Association of Firefighters’ 2016 International Burn Camp this week in Washington, D.C.
Forty-five campers and 45 counselors from the U.S. and Canada were invited to attend this year’s camp at the nation’s capital, said IAFF Charitable Foundation Burn Coordinator Tom Flamm, who oversees the camp. The campers, who range from 13 to 15 years old, spend a week touring parts of Maryland, Washington and Virginia on an all-expenses-paid trip to “make young people feel like they’re not alone,” Flamm said.
“This camp turned me into a leader,” Adriana said. “It’s changed me to be an outgoing person and not to judge people on how they look. Everybody has their own story.”
On Monday, the campers visited some of the Smithsonian museums and the Washington Monument, and they ate lunch at a firehouse. On Tuesday, they traveled to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and had lunch at another fire station before going to Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial on Wednesday.
“It’s very fun up here, and it’s beautiful,” Adriana said. “All of the experiences I have at camp. … I love it. There’s more and more adventure every day.”
This camp turned me into a leader. It’s changed me to be an outgoing person and not to judge people on how they look. Everybody has their own story.
Flamm, a retired Chicago firefighter, said being able to make a difference in survivors’ lives was an “extremely fulfilling opportunity,” and he’s seen its impact on Adriana.
“You would just look at her as a regular girl who hasn’t had any adversity in her life,” Flamm said. “It’s not a large community – at times, we wish it was smaller – but it’s an extremely wonderful community.”
After frequent visits to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with her camp in California, Adriana has developed a passion for marine biology. But before that, she hopes to take a bigger role within her “second family” by becoming one of the camp’s counselors.
Denise Olvera said that without the camp and the support it provided, she didn’t think her daughter would be the same positive, motivated and active person she is today.
“I’m not thankful, but I’m glad sometimes that it happened, because I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am if it hadn’t,” Adriana Olvera said. “It inspired me to look at things differently.”
Jessica Campisi: 202-383-6055, @jessiecampisi