Breakfast for Champions

Do you remember the old Wheaties slogan “Breakfast for Champions”?

Penned by a Minneapolis advertising  agency, “Breakfast for Champions” was an advertising slogan for Wheaties breakfast cereal. Each box featured a different star athlete, who had truly made it as an outstanding sportsperson.

General Mills, the cereal maker, called it their legend series, aiming to get both children and adults to eat their Wheaties, while making them look up to and aspire to be the next famous sports player, bodybuilder, boxer or wrestler.

As a child I never really understood what it was all about. What really was a Breakfast for Champions, who were the true champions, and how did one learn from them? The answers came all too soon.

When my son was diagnosed with T-Cell ALL, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, things changed overnight. Who was worrying about breakfast, or becoming a champion? We were just trying to survive, get through the day, and keep the family afloat.

Then we found out about Chai Lifeline and Camp Simcha, and the Breakfast for Champions took on a new meaning in my life.

Our son was invited to go to  Camp Simcha, a camp for children and teens with cancer or blood disorders. This camp  recognizes that, although these kids have gone through and seen the worst, they are still kids, and they want to be treated like kids. They want to run, play, swim, and enjoy all the things that their friends are doing, without being judged or singled out as “the kid with cancer.”

Our son just spent his second summer at camp. All year long, he talked about looking forward to eating his Breakfast for Champions. This, he told us, was a Camp Simcha highlight.

Turns out, this breakfast  consists of every type of breakfast food, cooked and baked fresh in the morning. One only needs to look at the pictures on the Camp Simcha website to feel the mouthwatering taste of all the delicious foods: sweet, savory, sour and tart. There are omelette stations, waffle stations, ice cream sundae stations, lox and bagels, and cheese cakes. Counselors dressed in colorful outfits, dance around the room, flip pancakes, create juicy, moist sweets, blend smoothies, and magically paint smiles on the faces of every child.

However, this Breakfast of Champions is just the beginning. It is followed by helicopter rides, visits from well known singers and famous sports players. There are boat rides, a full range of water-sports, paintball shooting, rock climbing, art projects, field trips, live music and DJs who keep the excitement flowing throughout the day.

Every moment, every activity at Camp Simcha is done with the same love and care as the breakfast that begins the campers’ day. This camp really understands the meaning of the saying, “When life brings you lemons, make lemonade”. They make the sweetest, tastiest lemonade that exists. It is combined with the perfect ingredients, giving the kids the energy to face the chemo therapies, treatments, and difficulties that lie ahead. A stay at Camp Simcha provides the strength to persevere until they come together again at Camp Simcha the following year.

So here’s what I learned. Call it Breakfast for Champions or simply call it champs, these brave kids fighting life-threatening illnesses are the real champs. Although they are young, and physically small, their courage and strength are years ahead of their little bodies, and their ability to stay positive is life changing.

They have taught me what it means to be thankful, face adversity with strength, count my blessings, kiss my children, appreciate the good days, not let the small things ruin my day, and thank G-d for His wonderful gifts, each a blessing in its own way. And most of all, there is always a reason to smile.

Next time you wake up and prepare your Breakfast for Champions, know that there are  real champs out there, being taken care of by wonderful people, like the staff at Camp Simcha. They truly understand that kids can’t fight cancer alone, and that sometimes they need that extra dose of joy and camaraderie to keep the smiles on their faces.

Here’s my suggestion for General Mills:  Next time you’re  looking for a Breakfast for Champions star, choose a child fighting a life-threatening illness. They are strong, they are brave, they are fighters, they are true believers, but most of all they are children with love in their hearts, and that’s their super power.

About the Author
Baila Brackman is the co-director of the Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning at the University of Chicago. She lives in Chicago with her husband and five children.