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Camps aren't just for kids anymore

Adult camps let harried execs fulfill childhood dreams of training to be an astronaut, a Red Sox shortstop or even a fighter pilot.
New England Tennis Holidays
New England Tennis HolidaysBananaStock
/ Source: Forbes

Kevin Marden Sr. doesn't get a lot of vacation time. As chief executive of World Class Logistics, a freight management firm based in Newton, Mass., Marden is usually busy 51 weeks a year. In that one free week, however, he lives out a boyhood dream, traveling to Fort Myers, Fla., where the Boston Red Sox have spring training.

At a fantasy baseball camp run by Sports Adventures, Marden chats up former Red Sox players, uses the Red Sox lockers and plays baseball for several hours a day. "I play golf, I go boating, I have places in Florida and on the Cape,” says Marden, 59. “But this is No. 1. I look forward to this every single year.”

Camps aren’t just for kids anymore. Fantasy camps are designed specifically for busy professionals looking to surf, hike, cook, fly fighter jets or train to be an astronaut. These getaways usually provide plenty of amenities, often complete with meals and lodging, so campers can relax and have fun without worrying about details.

"Everything is taken care of," says Claire Grabher, who owns New England Tennis Holidays with her husband, Kurt. "That's a big appeal for people who are busy."

Not only do campers get to try new things, but they make friends and contacts too. "It's a great opportunity to meet new people who share your interests," says Wendi Taylor Nations, 43, an executive vice president at public relations firm Porter Novelli, who has made close friends on wilderness trips run by Colorado River & Trail Expeditions (CRATE).

For Marden, baseball camp is a release and a networking opportunity. He founded a real estate investment company with Larry Marino, president of Sports Adventures, and another camper, Tony Basile, a third baseman and president of Catania-Spagna, a family-owned olive oil importer in Ayer, Mass. "Everyone that goes to this thing is a professional," says Marden.

At AirCombat USA, business and pleasure are mixed with a drop of jet fuel. Camp participants actually fly a plane--that's right, a real plane in a real sky--and engage in mock combat. AirCombat USA has access to airspace in 32 cities, so its program is available nationwide.

"It is without a doubt one of the most unbelievable events you could ever partake in," says John Henderson, 45, marketing director at Thermadyne Industries, who took a group of clients to the daylong workshop. "You unwind in a way that you could not fathom."

A professional flier, usually a former fighter pilot, takes care of the takeoff and landing, but the participant steers the plane. Computer graphics illustrate the simulated dogfights, which last up to five minutes each. Between dogfights, Henderson's pilot turned to him, grinned and said, "And this is legal!"

Though most of the faux fighter pilots are men, women are increasingly interested in the activity, according to Denise Jennings, marketing director for AirCombat USA. Often, they discover that they're really good at it. "Women multitask very well, and they follow directions very well," Jennings says.

For some, adult camps offer a feeling of accomplishment that they can't get anywhere else. "It's an opportunity to challenge yourself," says Taylor Nations, who has participated in three CRATE wilderness trips along with her husband, Scott, a trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. "Can I sleep on the ground for eight days in a row? Can I bathe in a river for nine days? It's an opportunity to see what you're made of."