Dustin Hansen remembers the day Roundup River Ranch found him. During a fly-fishing trip on the Colorado River, the banker noticed a shimmering stretch of ranchland at the water’s edge. His guide told him it was a camp for kids with cancer. Something stirred inside him—his father had died of cancer when Dustin was 16—and from that moment on, he was compelled to learn more, and was inspired to eventually become a volunteer counselor at the camp.
A special camp
Philanthropist Alison Knapp, inspired by Paul Newman’s camps for children with serious medical issues, founded the ranch in 2006 in Avon, Colorado. Roundup River Ranch gives kids, as Paul once said, a place to “kick back and raise a little hell,” with horseback riding, canoeing, archery and other summer camp diversions.
The ranch is now part of the late actor’s SeriousFun Children’s Network and includes a complete 24-hour medical component. Dustin says the ranch has an amazing atmosphere—like “Disney World on steroids.” “Most of these kids are hospitalized; most do not go to school,” he says.
It gives them hope
“The ranch lets them play and experience joy. The nurses say that it’s as important as their medical treatments….It gives them hope.” Dustin sees the transformation in the children and in his own outlook. He watched an 8-year-old boy with a brain tumor and a leg amputation tackle a climbing wall hand over hand, foothold by foothold, making it to the top by himself.
“I’ve never cried like I did that day,” Dustin says. “They were tears of joy. He had so much will and perseverance. These kids are teaching me about life.
“They taught me how to play and celebrate more—how to laugh. They taught me that life is short, that you need to count your blessings each and every day, and that there is joy even in bad situations.”
Marie Speed is the editor of a number of South Florida-based magazines.