This zombie survival camp will help you win apocalypse

MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Mark Scelza draws a line in the dirt with his foot one recent Saturday morning. One side, he said, represents paranoia. The other, preparation.

He constantly teeters on the edge of the two.

"Do I really think the world's going to end and turn into a zombie apocalypse? I hope so," he said with a laugh. "It won't, but you need to be prepared. Maybe it's not the zombie apocalypse, but what if the power's out and now you can't get gas?"

Original Zombie Survival Camp, located in the Pine Barrens section of Manchester Township, offers day and weekend camps featuring trainers with diverse backgrounds, including the military, martial arts, firearms, personal training and mechanics.

Students learn practical life skills, including first aid, hand-to-hand combat, how to shoot guns and crossbows, how to throw a knife, how to start a fire, and how to find a clean source of water.

Scelza's wife, Sue Scelza, said when he first came to her with the idea to host a zombie survival camp, she took a long time to agree.

It wasn't until the two set up a booth at the Asbury Park Zombie Walk and received such a positive response from participants that she jumped on board.

Sue Scelza said her day job isn't too different from working as a zombie survival camp trainer. Monday through Friday, she works as a compliance officer for an insurance company. "Part of my job is to handle disaster planning of corporations, to make sure we can continue working if something were to happen," she said.

At the camp, she specializes in crossbow training. Growing up, she took every archery class she could in high school.

"I've always been a bit of a bow aficionado," she said. "Crossbow was a natural progression from the regular pow. I just really like the power behind it and the silence."

The camp has drawn visitors from all over the country. 

Tom and Maria Swenson are back for a second time — the duo made the drive from Concord, N.H.


"We're really into the apocalypse thing," Maria Swenson said. "You never know what's going to happen. Even in your day-to-day life — say you go hiking and you get stuck somewhere and you need water — it happens all the time."

For Riley Altemose of Lehigh Valley, Pa., the camp was a 15th-birthday gift from her mother, Jane Altemose.

The two are big fans of The Walking Dead, as well as survival shows, such as Discovery Channel's Naked and Afraid.

"I just thought it’d be a lot more interesting to give her an experience rather than another gift card," Jane Altemose said. 


Her favorite workshop was first aid training, while her daughter preferred knife throwing.

"Knowing how to take care of an injury makes me feel more capable and like I could tackle something that would be a little intimidating to me," Altemose said. "I always felt, 'Well, what would you do if something happens and there wasn’t a doctor around?'"

Joe Gunter works at the camp as a hands-on combat and self defense trainer. He said maintaining control can be the difference between dying and staying alive.

“Control is a mindset. It’s like the matrix," Gunter told students. "If I take the time, if I control my breathing, if I control myself, then I can control the situation."

Mark Scelza said what he and his wife are really running is a survival camp, but the zombie theme is used to make it more fun and help attendees better prepare for life's unexpected events like superstorm Sandy, a car accident or a flesh-eating monster.

"It's to learn what they don't know. That's what it's really all about," Sue Scelza said. "We certainly cannot teach somebody everything they need to know in an eight-hour class, but what we do is put the germ in their head of all the things they should learn more about."

Day camps run $179 and weekend camps cost $450, according to the website.

Follow Liz Dennerlein on Twitter: @lizdennerlein

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