Burn survivors rebuild lives with boost from special camp


Rowdy Soland was just 6 years old when he learned how to ride a dirt bike. Family trips to the desert soon turned into trips to the racetrack, and the young Encinitas dirt bike rider began competing against others.

Although injuries aren’t uncommon in motocross, Rowdy was badly burned in a crash in 2009. While his leg was treated at UCSD Regional Burn Center, it was the Burn Institute that helped him see beyond his scars.

“In motocross, injuries are going to happen no matter what,” Rowdy said. “It’s how you overcome it, and the Burn Institute really helped me with that. It’s just a minor obstacle.”

UCSD Regional Burn Center partners with the Burn Institute, a nonprofit health agency dedicated to reducing burn injuries and deaths in San Diego and Imperial counties through fire- and burn-prevention education, burn care research and treatment, and burn survivor support services.

From gas cards to lodging assistance, the institute provided financial help to 50 families with loved ones in the hospital last year.

“The Burn Institute really works very, very closely with the burn center,” said Rowdy’s father, Peter Soland. “They’re there a lot, talking with the patients and making sure that the people that are in there know there are different support groups. They do a really good job.”

Rowdy and his family learned about the Burn Institute and its Camp Beyond the Scars while he was treated at UCSD.

Camp Beyond the Scars is the institute’s most notable burn survivor support program. The camp was established in 1987 and San Diego’s local Camp Beyond the Scars launched in 1994.

After being treated for third-degree burns, Rowdy decided to attend the camp that year.

“It helped me be more comfortable with my scar,” he said.

Now 16 years old, the La Costa Canyon High School junior returns to the Ramona-based camp every year. Rowdy was one of 70 children with burn injuries who participated in this year’s summer camp from July 29 to Aug. 3. The Burn Institute also offers a three-day camp in the winter.

With campers ages 5-17, Rowdy is now one of the oldest participants. He has become a role model to the newcomers.

“He’s not shy at all. When kids see his scar, he’ll pull up his leg and tell them where it’s from,” Soland said. “It helps the kids who are afraid and hide their scars.”

“He’s one of those campers that has been there for years and years and years, so he definitely has a bond with many of the campers,” added Erwin Manansala, Rowdy’s camp counselor. “He’s a veteran camper that a lot of the younger kids look up to.”

The weeklong camp emphasized building self-esteem and coping skills, and fellowship with other burn survivors. The camp also offered a variety of activities, including swimming and water sports, rock-wall climbing, biking, hiking, arts and crafts, and more.

“Don’t be afraid about your scars,” Rowdy said to other burn survivors. “Live it up. Scars are like tattoos, but with better stories.”

The Burn Institute provides the camp free to burn-injured children. It costs approximately $1,000 per camper.

For more about the Burn Institute and Camp Beyond the Scars, visit