For The Madera Tribune
Burn victim Pradnya Bergdahl hangs out with a pig during Champs Camp in June. Bergdahl has been going to the camp for the past eight years and it has helped her cope with second-degree burns on her torso she received when she was 10.
When most people see or talk to Pradnya Bergdahl, they see a bubbly, outgoing personality with a big smile and willingness to talk to anybody.
What most people don’t see are the second- and third-degree burns on her torso and upper arm from a cooking accident eight years ago.
Since that time, Bergdahl, 18, has been attending Champ Camp at Wonder Valley on the outskirts of Sanger.
“You don’t get the stares, you don’t get the looks, you don’t get the questions,” she said “Everyone is pretty open about their burns. Going to camp has helped me cope with my burns.
“The camp has helped me cope with what happened to me. They have side events so you don’t just meet these amazing people for a week and not the entire year. I have been to the aquarium, been surfing. They have snowboarding and skiing trips. They also have a young adult summit, which teaches you life skills.”
Bergdahl received her burns when she was 10, but she hasn’t let the injury stop her. She is heading into her senior year at Madera High School and is a four-year member of the cheer squad and gymnastics team.
“My burns are good,” she said. “Since I have grown, the burn skin does not grow with me. I have had laser surgery to loosen up the skin. I have full range of motion. I am still doing cheer and gymnastics. Everything is good.”
However, Bergdahl says, going to Champ Camp has helped her cope with what happened.
“This year, we practiced responses,” Bergdahl said. “Instead of not talking about your burns, they taught us that we are in control of how much we share or don’t share. They make sure that you’re comfortable. They teach you that being burned isn’t a bad thing. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a blessing.”
At the camp, Bergdahl says they try to give the campers memorable activities.
“This year, there was mini bike riding, and obstacle course on the lake called Atlantis, go-karts and laser tag,” she said. “It’s things to remember. As a kid, I got to ride horses there. It’s a camp for making memories. The senior boys and girls had a day. We went white-water rafting. This year, we wentwakeboarding, tubing and jet skiing. We had a pontoon on the late and were able to float there.”
In addition to the activities, Bergdahl said, she goes back to the camp each year because of all the friendships she has created.
“It’s the people,” she said. “Camp can be anywhere. It’s the people that makes the camp run. You get to meet so many personalities. It’s the love they give you and the attention they give you. They don’t treat you like a victim. They don’t feel sorry for you. Some of the counselors have their own burn stories. Some of them work in the hospitals or are firefighters. It’s cool to know them and they are people from everywhere. We had kids from Mexico and New Zealand.”
This year, Bergdahl had the opportunity to help a younger camper and it made her want to keep attending the camp. Although she aged out of camp (the camp is open to children ages 5-17), she wants to come back as a counselor-in-training.
“I got the privilege of helping convince a younger buckaroo (age 5-7) to come to camp,” she said. "We got to the drop-off center. She (Emma) was super scared and had never been to camp. I tried to make friends with her. I got to know her on the bus because it’s an hour ride. She’s just the cutest. We taught her how to play tic-tac-toe. I made sure that she wasn’t alone and she knew she had a friend. I led her to her cabin and her counselor. I met with her every meal and checked on her. The change that those counselors made in my life, I want to give back to younger kids like Emma.”
Bergdahl was a 10-year-old making dinner for herself, something she had done since she was six, when she burnt herself.
“I was boiling water and my shirt caught on the stove and it caught on fire,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid of cooking. I was used to the heat of the stove and cooking. I really didn’t think much of it when I thought it was getting hot. I look over and see the big flame. I stepped off my stepstool and told my mom I was on fire. Then, I started screaming because it hit. I had second- and third-degree burns on the torso and the upper arm.”
Bergdahl considers herself to be one of the lucky ones. She can hide most of her burns with just a T-shirt.
“At camp, you see amputees, people burned head to toe, some missing fingers or some burned on their face or without hair,” she said. “Over the year’s I’ve been at camp, I’m thankful for my burns.”