Camp Korey lets ailing teen feel normal

July 10, 2012

By Katie Larsen

Kara Denson and Tobi both wear perpetual smiles whenever Kara is riding, here during a recent schooling show at the Freedom Run Equestrian Center in Maple Valley, where Tobi stays. Contributed

Imagine only having one week a year to feel normal. That is the life of Kara Denson, a local 15-year-old suffering from mitochondrial disease.

Camp Korey at Carnation Farm hosts youths with certain life-altering medical conditions each week. Mitochondrial disease week is from July 23-27.

Diagnosed at age 4, Kara now has many other health problems related to her primary disease. For example, she can’t eat much so to obtain enough nutrition, Kara has a feeding tube to help. Mostly though, she said her lack of energy to do things normal people do is her biggest obstacle.

“At Camp Korey, it’s completely normal to be tired after one event and everyone understands if you need a break,” Kara said.

Ages 6 through 16 from all across the United States come because the only other camp for the condition is in upstate New York. After 16, attendees have the opportunity to become a leader-in-training and at 18, they can become counselors. Kara said she is looking forward to doing both.

Last year, she and her roommates joked about being the noisiest group because of all of the medical equipment that was hooked up to each of them.

“We can have a good sense of humor about it,” Kara said. “We sounded like a symphony.”

Camp Korey involves numerous activities, including horseback riding, a ropes course, fishing and teepee campouts. There is also a camp theme, dance and song to unite campers.

“Camp Korey is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Kara said. “ I met some of my closest friends from there. I really look forward to seeing everyone.”

Kara also attends a horse day camp where she is a volunteer art director. The camp is through the Freedom Run Equestrian Center, where Kara goes to ride her favorite horse, Tobi.

“It started as a physical therapy and now I’m into showing and everything about horses,” Kara said.

Kara is homeschooled and hopes to be done ahead of schedule and head off to the Blanche Macdonald Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, to study makeup. She then wants to go to Parsons The New School for Design in New York City to study fashion. After that, Kara hopes to stay in New York or move to Paris to find a career in high-end fashion design and makeup.

One of her favorite things to do is shop, especially with her mother Marilyn Denson. Their favorite store is Nordstrom in Bellevue Square Mall and they both agree that Kara has a shoe obsession. She rotates wearing 15 pairs of shoes.

“I think the biggest thing is never judge someone by how they look,” Marilyn Denson said. “The toughest thing for people to understand is she looks healthy. You never know everything that’s going on.”

Marilyn Denson said she tries to keep a sense of humor about things and the family tries to make sure they are living for Kara, and not the disease.

“Kara is Kara. Kara is not mitochondrial disease,” Marilyn Denson said. “Camp Korey has given our whole family a group of people to bond with.”

Marilyn Denson is also a part of a research guild from Seattle Children’s, which helps her be understood by others in the same situations.

“Just because I’m disabled, doesn’t mean I’m different than other people,” Kara said.

She likes things most teenagers enjoy, such as hanging out with friends, reading and watching movies. She also has a passion for drawing and recently won a national art competition. The Rare Artist award she received was for a drawing that reflected how she felt about her disability. Half of the picture was a computer printout in black and white of a girl’s face, representing what Kara shows to people who don’t know her, and the other half was her drawing, showing who she really is.

Katie Larsen: 392-6434, ext. 236, or Comment at

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2 Responses to “Camp Korey lets ailing teen feel normal”

  1. Tim Rose on July 11th, 2012 4:03 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful story about Kara, her family and their experience at Camp Korey.
    It is truly a special reward to hear that all the hard work, sweat, toil, and fantastic happiness that all the Staff, Counselors, and Dream Team members provide, make for a week when a person like Kara can laugh, play, and just raise a little hell!!!!
    This kind of story is why we all work so hard and will continue to do so. If we could run Camp Korey 365 days a year, and bring this joy to thousands more like Kara, than truly a dream would come true.
    Thank you. TIM ROSE, FOUNDER and CHAIRMAN. Camp Korey

  2. Mariah Mitchell on July 12th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Please amend the previous post to the following:

    Many thanks to Kara and her family for sharing their story and Katie and Issaquah Press for running it. Kara is one of many amazing campers and we are so glad she is a part of the Camp Korey family. As a staff member I am so fortunate to see how life changing a week at Camp Korey can be. We invite you to come out and experience a slice of camp life! Schedule a tour, have lunch with our campers and walk the beautiful grounds of historic Carnation Farms. Hope to see you here soon! Mariah Mitchell, Accounting Director, (425) 844-3277 All tours MUST be pre-arranged. Please contact us for more information.

  3. Camp Korey lets ailing teen feel normal | katherinelarsen on January 21st, 2013 8:37 am

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