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Camp Balcones Springs proves summer camp isn't just for kids

Desperate Housewives Getaway combines fitness, healthy foods and guest speakers.

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com
Bessie Zgourides of Houston stretches during a Pilates class, part of a long weekend of activities that included a dance fitness class, swimming and rock climbing. Camp Balcones Springs offers the women's getaway in the fall and spring.

MARBLE FALLS — Between the combat cardio class, yoga, horseback riding and hiking, Bessie Zgourides and Carrie Rigas manage to sit still long enough for a massage and manicure.

But just barely.

Soon they're right back in the action at the Desperate Housewives Getaway.

Before the weekend is out, the two friends from Houston have played tennis, tried archery, experienced a Latin-style aerobics dance class, ridden a zip line and heard from a popular Austin running coach.

I meet up with them in the spring-fed lake on this Hill Country spread, which swarms with kids in June, July and August but oozes tranquility once school starts. The water's crisp but refreshing, and we tread water as we wait for cues from the aerobics instructor standing on the dock. After 30 minutes, we start to shiver and climb out. Channeling their inner summer campers, Zgourides and Rigas take turns bouncing each other off the gigantic inflatable "blob" and back into the lake.

For everyone who's wondered why kids get all the fun at overnight camp, Camp Balcones Springs presents a women's fitness retreat. Pack only exercise clothes, come prepared to sweat and definitely don't expect hot dogs and Beanie Weenies for dinner.

"My kids tell me how much fun they have," says Zgourides, whose children attend summer camp here. She talked Rigas into joining her for the three-day fitness retreat about an hour's drive northwest of Austin.

Camp owner Christine Baskin combines fitness, healthy food and guest speakers at the retreats, offered each fall and spring. She also works in a little pampering. During a recent session, participants sipped champagne and dipped their hands into warm melted wax before watching a healthy cooking demonstration by on-site chef Marko Ellinger.

"There are misconceptions about food that's good for you," Ellinger says as he assembles a vegetarian sushi roll made with seaweed, brown rice, sprouts, ginger and vegetables, then demonstrates how to saut? tofu with balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and agave nectar. "But it's not like you have to sacrifice taste."

When Ellinger gives up the stage, Austin running coach Gilbert Tuhabonye takes over, sharing his story about surviving genocide in Burundi. Tuhabonye was the sole survivor when rebels set his school on fire. He went on to become an All-America runner at Abilene Christian University and now heads the Gilbert's Gazelles training program.

Now it's time for dinner, halibut and polenta served under the stars, and the women recount the weekend so far.

Julie Boxberger says the action started shortly after she arrived Friday afternoon. "We kind of thought we were coming here to relax," she says with a laugh. "The next thing we know we're doing a workout, then it's rock climbing. \u2026 We had kind of forgotten it was a fitness camp, but it was great fun."

Laura Thomas of Burnet says she needed a break from her family, even though she's missing them now. "I laughed this whole weekend," she says. "I can't blame weight gain on my 2-year-old anymore. This is a jump-start to get my whole workout thing going again."

She's already a little sore from the effort, which included a rip-roaring cardio class that incorporated a bit of basketball, some weight lifting, lunges and abdominal work.

"For me it's more about getting out of the city and outdoors and away from electronics," says Susan Ourston of Austin. "I wanted to see the ducks, horseback ride, walk to Lake Travis. It's restful and spiritually rejuvenating."

Baskin, the camp owner, says she's just getting started.

"My hope is to add a cool spa building that will house a few treatment rooms, lap pool, sun deck \u2026 so that I can entertain spa/fitness guests all the time," she says. "Most women can't go to fancy spas at $1,000 a day and up. My solution is a retreat for a fraction of the cost, all the while offering priceless experiences."

She makes it convenient, too, providing each woman with a take-home meal for her entire family on the last day.

We leave the dinner table and traipse down a set of stone steps on the hillside. A bonfire is burning, and borrowing a cue from younger summer campers, we tell a few spooky stories before we head to bed.

Lucky for us, summer camp capers aren't on the agenda: No shaving cream fights, no underwear strung up the flag pole. We even get to sleep as long as we want.

After breakfast — a lovely affair with made-to-order omelets, fresh fruit and yogurt — we head to Zumba class, where Tracy Brown, an instructor from Body Business in Austin, leads the group through a Latin-themed aerobic dance class.

"Thank God there's no mirror," someone says as we try to swing our hips and shake our booties with half as much panache as Brown. It's hilarious to try.

Then we walk to the archery range, where we notch up arrows and fire away, hoping for a bull's-eye. About half of my shots sail over the target; the other half imbed on its outer edge.

I head to the tennis court to hit a bucket of balls, then report for duty at the quad jump, which looks like a two-story metal octopus with four harnesses attached. I buckle in, situate myself over a huge inflatable mat and give the OK. Slowly, I'm cranked up until I'm dangling a foot or two over the mat.

I bounce. And bounce again. I launch myself higher and higher, until I'm flying through the air like a 130-pound Super Ball with flailing arms and legs. I even manage a couple of forward flips before I'm lowered back to the ground like a trout on a fishing line.

This whole fitness camp thing? Definitely a good idea.

Move over, kids. It's our turn!

If you go

Camp Balcones Springs, 104 Balcones Springs Drive near Marble Falls, offers Desperate Housewives fitness retreats each spring and fall. A three-day retreat costs $400, or $550 with manicure, pedicure and massage. The next session is scheduled for April 23-25. For more information, go to campiscool.com or call 830-693-2267.