What Eating Competitions and Being the Camp Doctor have in Common

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“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work, and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must go beyond them.”
—Bruce Lee

Hi, My name is Dr. David Portnoy, and in 2004, I was in a McDonald’s eating contest. This was not what most grownups would consider a “smart” idea or a “healthy lifestyle choice”. But I had a goal to prove to myself, that I could eat 24 Chicken McNuggets, a few hamburgers, a couple Grilled Chicken Deluxes, and maybe also a Filet O’Fish. I probably also had some fries, and I definitely had at least one sundae, because I thought that soft serve could fit in the cracks between the solid food in my stomach. By pushing myself to the limit, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can eat a really large amount of food for only $24. I also learned what my liver feels like when it pushes on your ribs from the inside. In addition, I learned that sometimes to feel truly alive, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

I never became a competitive eater, deciding that it is better to let some things you love just be hobbies. However, I did become an oncologist. I truly love what I do, and I find it very fulfilling. But that doesn’t mean I can’t shake things up once in a while.

In 2017, I became a camp doctor. Growing up in New York, I went to a camp, but I didn’t get to go to Jacobs Camp. However, seeing how much fun my older daughter had at Olim the year before, I knew I wanted to experience the Jacobs Magic firsthand. Since I was too old to be a camper, and I don’t possess what most people call “useful skills”, I knew that my only way in to Camp would be as a camp doctor.

Being a camp doctor is great. Meeting the campers, watching the skits, “not spying” on my kids, seeing the Camp family come together for Shabbat, and getting ambushed by my daughter’s cabin on Messy Night makes my week at Camp each summer a highlight of my year. But I get to step out of my comfort zone at Jacobs, too. My first summer at Jacobs, I decided I needed to try all the adventure activities. So I climbed the tower, rode the zipline, slid down the Wet Willie, and did a belly flop off of the iceberg (not on purpose). I’m not sure if I would have been brave enough to do all of this when I was younger, but when I’m at Camp, the kid inside of me gets a chance to play and push his boundaries, too.

I was so disappointed that we didn’t get to go to Camp this year. I hate that my kids didn’t get to see their friends and create the summer memories that will shape the rest of their lives. But I’m so hopeful that we will all be back next summer, pushing our limits, overcoming fears, and learning more about ourselves in the process. We know the challenges of creating a safe environment for our children in this pandemic, but we are already hard at work preparing for next summer to be as great (and healthy) as ever. Next summer we’ll need doctors and nurses more than ever to support a safe camp experience – plus you’ve already heard how fun it is! If you’re a doctor or nurse and are interested in spending an amazing week at camp in 2021, reach out to me or Anna to learn more!