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July 31, 2009 5:58 PM

Off the Clock: Running the Camp

Posted by Francesca Heintz

Liquid

Camp Counseling Paddler: Juliet Starrett

On the Clock: Starrett is an associate with Reed Smith, working in the commercial litigation practice in the firm’s Oakland office.

Off the Clock: Kayaker, white-water rafter.

Got Her Feet Wet
: As a college student, running tours down California’s rapids.

Juliet Starrett loves to be on the water.

While in college at Berkeley, she spent her summers as a river guide, taking tourists down California's rapids. After graduation, she joined the U.S. National Whitewater Team, clinching world championships in 1997 and 1998.

Five years later, Starrett decided to hang up her paddles and enroll in law school. In 2003, she joined Reed Smith's Oakland office as an associate in the firm's commercial litigation practice.

Life as a lawyer hasn't kept Starrett away from the water. In 2003, she and her husband (also a former U.S. National Whitewater Team member) founded Liquid Camp to bring together teenagers with HIV/AIDS from around the U.S. for a week of camping and white-water kayaking on the south fork of California's American River.

The camp operates as part of Healing Waters, a nonprofit whose goal is to enrich the lives of people living with AIDS through wilderness adventures, primarily water rafting trips and sea kayaking expeditions. Starrett and her husband had volunteered with Healing Waters. The idea for their program was inspired by a camp set up and run by a friend for kids living with cancer.

Most of Liquid's campers have been living with HIV since birth, having contracted it from their mothers, says Starrett. "A lot of the kids come from urban areas and have never been in water before, except in their bathtub," Starrett says. "This is pretty extreme for them."

This year, 18 teenagers will attend the camp, which starts on August 2. During their week at Liquid, the campers will spend every day on the river, starting off in slow waters and working up to Class 2 rapids.

"Some kids handle it well right away and some are pretty fearful at the beginning," Starrett says. "It's amazing to watch the transformation."

The campers are referred by a network of HIV pediatric physicians who make sure the kids are healthy enough to go.

The camp is free for those who attend (campers simply have to cover their airfare)--all the expenses are covered through funding from Healing Waters. Kayak and rafting companies Starrett knows from her pro days donate the equipment and soon she hopes to raise the funds to expand the trip beyond one week a year.

Starrett and her husband are the head counselors, teaching the teens how to kayak and conducting outdoor leadership training sessions. Liquid Camp also has five other kayaking instructors as well as staff members who help with setting up the campsite and cooking. (Everyone works on a volunteer basis.) A pediatric HIV doctor helps dispense medication and tends to campers who need medical attention. (Starrett and her husband met the doctor at a Ryan White convention.)

Since launching the camp six years ago, Starrett says she has noticed that the HIV medications seem to be causing fewer side effects. "We used to have to wake them up at four in the morning to give them their pills," she says. "But last summer we noticed a lot less general malaise among the campers."

For Starrett, the greatest satisfaction of running the camp comes from creating an environment in which teens with HIV/AIDS can meet each other and realize they're not alone.

"The number of children contracting HIV continues to go down with better drugs and better prevention efforts, but in a way that success makes the kids that have HIV now even more isolated," says Starrett. "It's wonderful to watch them let loose and be comfortable with each other."

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