Tina “Skittles” Martinez was only 15 months old in 1982 when she was in a house fire started by a faulty electrical outlet. It quickly fueled a fire that engulfed her home. Tina was in her crib, as flames surrounded her, when her father came to her rescue. While he saved his tiny daughter, he lost his own life as a result of smoke inhalation. Tina sustained 3rd degree burns over 80% of her body, burns that for many would prove fatal, but this tiny girl was, and is a real survivor.
As she recovered from many surgeries and years in intensive care, Tina’s nurses urged her mother to send her to what then was a novel experiment. Champ Camp was to be a camp run by volunteers designed to give burn survivors a chance to be with others who understood their scars, their pain, and who were just like them, most importantly, in a fun and loving atmosphere. Desperate to provide her daughter with any sense of “normalcy,” Tina’s mother agreed. Tina joined Champ Camp at just four years old, with all the normal fears of any small child going off to camp by herself, with the added burden of her scars.
Champ Camp was just what Tina needed. She met other burn injured children and found a safe place to just have fun and be a kid. She did not worry about stares or questions. She was able to just be Tina. And though Tina had skin graft surgeries scheduled every summer to help her skin keep up with her growth- she made it very clear to her mother that all surgeries had to be scheduled after Champ Camp. Today, age 34, Tina continues to attend Champ Camp as a Camp Counselor. Losing her home and her father at a very young age she speaks of acquiring a huge new “family” of burn survivors, camp counselors and volunteers. “Now I have an enormous family through Camp! Champ Camp has a huge impact on my life. I am outgoing and not at all shy. I like to have fun and I make the best of every situation. Away from camp I am the ‘weird one’ who thanks to Camp likes to hug everyone. Honestly, I don’t think I could like and feel good about myself this much without Camp. I don’t think I would have the strength or confidence that I do without Champ Camp,” says Tina. “I don’t know where I’d be without Camp.”