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You're Never Too Old to Camp Out

Some people want to get in shape, others want their kids kept busy. Whatever the reason, events for grown-ups are flourishing.


MAMMOTH LAKES — He holds the American record for the mile, but on this day UC Irvine graduate Steve Scott is content at the back of the pack, encouraging a slow-footed runner struggling over a rugged mountain trail.

At Scott's annual Cross-Country Camp & Workshop, the emphasis is not on running fast, but on running your best. That's what Scott himself is trying to do. The three-time Olympian and cancer survivor is training as hard as ever to again break a four-minute mile.

"You can't take care of the people around you--your kids, your spouse--unless you first take care of yourself," said Scott, whose camp also encourages runners to strike a balance in their hectic lives.

That sentiment is behind the growing--and thriving--number of adult fitness and celebrity-led "fantasy" camps. Their success is largely because of their widespread appeal, drawing in aging Baby Boomers with disposable income, a swimmer who decides it's time to learn to surf, or a burnt-out cyclist who thinks a new sport such as kayaking might help jump-start his fitness routine.

"People today want to go on vacation and get in better shape, not worse shape," said John Duke, marketing director of the San Diego-based Multisport School of Champions, which holds year-round camps across the country for triathletes and others.

"It's my observation that there is a wider variety of camp offerings than ever before, and more people are looking to take up something new, whether it's mountain biking or climbing or snow shoes," said T.J. Murphy, assistant editor at Triathlete magazine.

Peter Crowley, 60, of Huntington Beach, is one of the many adults heading off to camp this summer. The retired Internal Revenue Service agent swims several times a week but plans to work on improving his stroke and tackling open water swimming during a weeklong clinic at the University of San Diego.

"I've been swimming for years but I'm still not the greatest swimmer," Crowley said. "I want to learn how to do it right. I want to get as much power out of my stroke as I can."

The draw to adult fitness camps often includes the chance to meet well-known sports figures. The School of Champions, for example, boasts training sessions with some of the biggest names in triathlon: owner Paula Newby-Fraser, Mike Pigg and Mark Allen.

With few exceptions, camps are open to people of all fitness levels, but workouts are serious. Scott's camp, for example, holds daily runs between three and 12 or more miles. Afternoon clinics can include intense stretching sessions or muscle-burning drills.

Camp prices and services vary widely. Some cover only instruction costs--leaving food and lodging up to you. Fantasy camps can cost thousands and include lodging, but no food. Other offer an all-inclusive price, designed for a "no-brainer" vacation that requires you to simply show up, as one camp director put it.

Accommodations also vary, ranging from luxurious hotel rooms, to university dormitory rooms to surf-side campgrounds. Many schools are located within easy access to fishing, hiking and snorkeling for off-hours recreation.

What follows is a sample of fitness camps.

* Steve Scott Cross-Country Camp & Workshop. August in Mammoth Lakes. All inclusive: up to $550 for private room and bath. Contact Scott's coach, Irv Ray: (818) 335-4012.

* Endless Summer Surf Camp in San Clemente teaches 150-200 wannabe surfers each year. Camping available on San Onofre State Beach. Cost varies. Seven days, all inclusive: $545. Contact: (714 ) 498-7862.

* Laker Byron Scott's Basketball Camp in San Diego. NBA fantasy camp limited to men age 30 and over. Shoot hoops with Bill Walton and other basketball greats. Cost: $2,500. Contact Scott's business manager, Brian McInerny: (714) 661-7117.

* School of Champions. Triathlete Newby-Fraser holds several camps each year in San Diego and elsewhere. Next session: July 23-27 in Boulder, Colo. All inclusive: $795. Contact Duke at (760) 944-7354.

* Tennis, masters swimming and women's basketball at the University of San Diego. Dates, price vary for tennis and swimming with access to private dorm rooms. Women's basketball clinic being held July 2-3, instruction only, $50. Contact: (619) 260-4593.

* Pacific Yachting and Sailing in Santa Cruz helps beginners become certified sailors. Dates throughout the year. The $790 cost includes lodging aboard 27- to 35-foot privately owned yachts. Contact: (800) 374-2626.

* Dirt Camp offers a variety of mountain biking sessions throughout the year. Upcoming: Weeklong stints on dirt trails in Moab, Utah, and Durango, Colo., to weekend excursions in Lake Tahoe. Instructors include cycling pros. Price ranges from $289 for weekend to $1,425 for weeklong stay. Bike rentals available. Contact: (800) 711-DIRT.

* Mammoth Mountaineering School holds a variety of classes, including rock climbing and ice climbing in the Sierra and Jackson Hole, Wyo. Can also arrange special sessions for groups elsewhere, including Joshua Tree. Prices vary. Contact: (760) 924-9100.

* Sundance Expeditions spends several days teaching whitewater kayaking basics to students before taking them on the Rogue River in southwest Oregon. Costs range from $950 for five-day session to $1,725 for nine days. Contact: (541) 479-8508.

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