During his soccer career in Europe and North America, Jay DeMerit made a point of enjoying life outside the game.
Since retiring in 2014, the former Vancouver Whitecaps captain has transitioned well into his post-athletic career, helping to found Portmanteau Stereo Co. and the Rise & Shine Foundation, which has run Captains Camps in Pemberton since 2016.
DeMerit, who runs the camp with his wife, 2010 Olympic ski-cross champion Ashleigh McIvor-DeMerit, is committed to sharing those values with the younger generation. Attendees aged 13 to 18 get three hours of soccer instruction a day, but he's made a point of including several other elements.
DeMerit sees most camps as offering narrow focuses. At a time where debates rage on as to whether young elite athletes should specialize in one sport, he's giving those who attend Captains Camps plenty to think about.
"Normal curriculums for youth are very singular, whether it's a music program, an arts program, a sports program," said DeMerit, taking a break from running the third of the camp's four weeks. "That's become a problem as far as how we develop our youth. They're becoming very one-dimensional."
Athletic guests so far this summer have included big-mountain skier Ian McIntosh and former Canadian rugby player Jeff McKinnon. As well, Sharad Khare of Vancouver-based multimedia company Khare Communications presented along with one of DeMerit's photographer friends.
"We try to build a multifaceted curriculum and be surrounded by people that are doing great things in their own professional lives outside of sport," he said. "It's so these kids understand that if they don't make it as athletes, it's OK, it's just as cool. Here are some cool people to tell you that."
As well, athletes are encouraged to learn more about health and nutrition, as DeMerit invited a naturopathic doctor, as well as local chefs and nutritionists to take part. The athletes also get some hands-on experiences to apply their knowledge, with make-your-own smoothies and pizza snacks.
"We have little signs in front of each ingredient that say, 'I'm a blueberry. I'm high in Vitamin C. I come from bushes and I'm good to take after games because I'm a natural anti-inflammatory.' While these kids are putting these ingredients in a basket or on a pizza, they're learning what's in it, not just that they should eat it," he said.
DeMerit said most of the campers are coming from the Sea to Sky, though some campers have come from as far away as Cranbrook, and a relative came from DeMerit's home state of Wisconsin.
"We're happy to have kids from all walks of life and from a lot of different places joining in the program. That just adds to the experience, not only for them but for kids from here to learn about other people's cultures and where they come from," he said.
The campers sleep in timber-frame tents designed by McIvor-DeMerit and built by her dad as a step up from the tents from Costco the camp used in its first year. In addition to taking the camp to its next level, the accommodations will make it more attractive to host weddings and other events on the grounds.
"It's a beautiful canvas tent with a timber frame and beautiful coloured furniture in there," he said. "You do feel like you're at a home away from home."
DeMerit said in the future, Captains Camps will consider everything from mountain biking to design as potential camp centrepieces.
For more, visit www.theriseandshinefoundation.com.