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First Descent

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Camps, Health, Health Support, Sports

Mission:

First Descents is committed to curing young adults (aged 18-39) of the emotional effects of cancer and empowering them to regain control of their lives by experiencing whitewater kayaking and other challenging adventure sports in a safe, fun and supportive environment.

Programs: First Descents will invite 15 young adults with cancer to attend our week long program at no expense to them. During the week they are taught to kayak. Starting in a small pond escalating up to rolling the boat in class III whitewater. Along the way they form bonds with other participants, share thier common problems, learn to rely on their bodies again, and realise they have the power to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

Community Stories

46 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First Descents is by far the greatest networking group for young adults with cancer! And there's the bonus of learning rad outdoor adventure skills such as whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. I happen to get this message first hand from our participants, as I work at several camps per year as "camp mom" and at each camp I attend, the consensus is overwhleming that FD is amazing and changes/touches their lives deeply! It is the greatest thing I have ever been involved with!

Previous Stories
1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Having worked at several FD camps now, I cannot say enough about how they keep it simple and real to have the most positive impact. Learning to kayak is huge for the participants, but what they really get from the whole camp experience is so much more. I have heard from several campers that these FD camps are the best cancer camp they have ever been to and for many, maybe the best 6 days of their life!

2

Board Member

Rating: 5

This camper story says it all about this organization:

'm not really good with words, but I'm going to try. Every day since I finished treatment I woke up and told myself I was healed because it was so much easier to deny that I was still hurting than it was to admit that I probably wouldn't be completely healed for a long time, or ever. I never spoke to anyone about my illness, not even my parents, I wanted people to treat me normally and not see me as "that girl with cancer." At FD people accepted me, and for the first time in 14 years I was able to talk about my illness, it wasn't easy but I finally feel like maybe I'm on the right track. I got to work on my fears of being underwater (I never really learned to swim because I couldn't get my central line wet when I was sick), and I met some of the most awe-inspiring, courageous, beautiful, and warm hearted people on earth. I was terrified of the graduation rapid, but just as I was going over it I felt all of the love and support of everyone at camp 61, family, friends, and that of my friend/hospital roommate who passed away when I was 7. That love and support brought me safely through the rapids, and there was a huge sense of accomplishment and freedom when I caught that final eddy. A lot of my emotional pain was washed away somewhere between the lake on the first day and running the graduation rapid. Thank you is not enough for what you and the other staff at FD have done, but I have to say thank you so so much for being so supportive and fostering an environment that allowed us to challenge ourselves, face our fears and learn from each other. I will be joining Team FD to say thank you and pay it forward, hopefully rowing a marathon. This will be the greatest athletic challenge I have ever faced, but I will draw my strength from my week at First Descents. What an amazing organization.

Previous Stories
1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

As one of the co-founders of this organization, I have had the amazing opportunity to see what can happen to young adult survivors when they are given the chance to "check" their cancer experiences at the door and get back a piece of their lives that sometimes gets forgotten. This "sense of self" is allowed to blossom through our intense (and sometimes downright scary) whitewater kayaking camp. Now in our 10th year, we have touched nearly 500 lives from all over the country and nearly everyday I get an email or a letter from past participants about how much joy they have found from their experience at First Descents whether it was through the fear and challenges they overcame to complete our week at camp or through the amazing network of survivors they have found as a result of attending camp who now have become closer than family in some cases. I think that what we provide can best be summed up by one of our recent participants from this year's camp up in Glacier National Park in Montana when she said, "I have been to many cancer camps and this is the first one that is not about the cancer." We urge any yound adult survivor between the ages of 18 and 40 to come experience the magic of First Descents and we will do everything we can to help them get "back their spirit" of life!

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

My husband and I were able to receive scholarships to attend FD's first couples retreat. Since I went through cancer when our relationship was still in the very early stages (he was just my boyfriend) it was very helpful and empowering to be around other couples with the same issues we struggled with. I did great on the white water kayaking. It was a great bonding experience for me and my husband. I think it was a great way not only to boost my self confidence but to reassure him that I was ok. FD cooked all homemade meals family style while we were there. There were so many WONDERFUL volunteers with the organization and this trip. We had an ER doctor that came down the river with us on his day off, the kayak enthusiasts who enlisted their friends to loan their boats for the week, etc.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

I haven't felt so alive in a long time!! You start to think the world actually only consists of what you're experiencing, like surgeries or uncertainty or loss... but then you taste mountain air and spider up a rock face and remember THERE IS SO MUCH MORE LIFE TO BE LIVED.

1

Donor

Rating: 5

I have been involved with First Descents since 2004. I have known the founder Brad Ludden since 2001...I can tell you all from personal experience that you will not find a more committed group of people than those behind the wheel at First Descents. Spend one day in their company and you will be infused with the inspiration that they pass on to young adult with cancer and cancer survivors on a daily basis at these camps. I have spoken with dozens of cancer survivors that have attended these camps, and they all say the same thing: "one of the best experiences of my life" Brad, Chuck, Jinny, and the whole FD crew in Colorado are a personal inspiration to me as well to keep giving back and helping people in need. Join this cause, and you will feel like a new, better person...I promise you. Terry L., Montana

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

I was a participant in one of the FD kayaking programs last summer. It changed my life. I'll never forget the connections I made with other survivors and one day I hope to be able to give back to this great organization that has given me so much!

1

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

First Descents is the most effective cancer survivor support organization I've been involved with during a career of over 30 years in oncology. Both participants and volunteers and empowered and enriched by the experience. Cancer survivors must get beyond victimhood to live full and happy lives- First Descents helps them rediscover the confident and capable person inside who may have gotten lost during the cancer journey.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Cancer taught me about death. First Descents taught me how to live. Most valuable week of my life. I hope many others will be able to attend and benefit as I did.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

This program is amazing. As a benefactor of a wonderful week kayaking in Montana near Glacier National Park, I can highly recommend this program. A huge part of what makes it so great is the amazing volunteer staff. I know that this organization spends it's money wisely on providing wonderful experiences for cancer survivors. As someone said, "This is a cancer camp that's not about cancer." It's about amazing experiences, challenging yourself to do something difficult and sometimes scary, and making great friends along the way.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Magical. Energizing. Peaceful. Challenging. Loving. First Descents ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite experiences. The moment I stepped off the plane and met my fellow FDers, it felt like a family. I was amazed at the instant trust each one of the campers had in the volunteers and counselors. FD gives you an opportunity to be out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in the midst of the most beautiful spots in the country. Because of my experience with First Descents, I even more grateful for my second chance at life.

15

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First Descents was an amazing esperience for all attending lending to continued reflection and positive life changes for all. FD brings together young adult cancer survivors with others who have been through a similar life threatening disease and gives them a place to connect and not feel alone, face fears of descending whitewater rapids (and of illness), and be in nature to heal on the emotional, mental and Spiritaul levels, in a supportive, kind, fun and playful atmosphere. I saw many volunteers give so much to others over the week-it was awesome!!!

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

I took my First Descent in June 2008, and it was an experience that would forever change my life. In August 2004, at 32 years of age, my carefree world as I knew it was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the next 7 months, I battled this disease with every ounce of strength I had. I easily coasted through my treatments and surgeries never imagining that the period following my cancer treatment would be so difficult. For months afterwards, I struggled to find my “new normal”. I felt that I had missed out on so much as I watched my friends around me move up in their careers, get married, and have children. I often felt I had no one to turn to, no person who would understand how I really felt. And then there was the constant fear of mortality... In June 2008, I boarded a plane to a First Descents camp in Montana with many reservations. To my surprise, my reluctant decision to attend was one of the the best decisions I ever made! For the first time since I was diagnosed, I did not feel different or pitied. I was challenged to do things that I thought I could never do. I learned the true beauty of humankind through the volunteers I met. I took a little piece from each camper that to this day continues to inspire me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself again. I returned home happy, empowered, and part of a whole new family. Thanks in grand part to First Descents, I was finally able to close my "cancer" chapter. No more pity parties for me!! I have since completed a half-marathon, learned how to snow ski, continued my travels, and returned to the "social scene". My wonderful medical team in Miami may have cured me physically, but First Descents mended my battered heart and soul.

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents was amazing experience. I was able to conquer my fears, meet new people, and do things I never thought was possible. It allowed me to focus on things other than my cancer. But, it also allowed me to joke about cancer with people who understood where I was coming from. I believe that FD is one of the best things that I have ever done. I am lucky to have been able to participate in such a great program.

5

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has a unique offering of adventure which bring together young adults. Together we face our fears and take on bigger challenges each day. Without the forces walls of a therapy room or hospital, the conversations naturally occur. The friendships are life-long and the new found confidence is amazing. First Descents is the best thing to come from my cancer experience. FD offers well structured programs, with highly qualified staff. The amount of care put into our safety is amazing. Thank you FD!!!

8

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I had the idea to start First Descents in 1999. After working on it for 2 years and with the help of many people, we were able to scrape together our first camp. It was then we realized we had something. Kayaking had deeply impacted my life and I believed it could do the same or more for others in need. It did. The participants who attend FD seize every opportunity we present and face the challenge of kayaking head on. By doing so, they are proving they aren't fragile because of their cancer, they're still in control of their life and they meet friends that become family.

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

It was amazing to see what happened when two of my worlds collided. The experience was surreal as I met people whose passion for nature was shared with people who truly understand the need to live for the moment. I saw one group inspired because the other group showed them that there was nothing wrong with living life for the moment. I saw the other group inspired by being shown how. It was the first time in my life I was able to be with survivors, face to face, in a place that encouraged deep conversation.

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

I recently returned from my second camp. Cancer is many things but two things that come to mind are that it is limiting and it is a betrayal. I face physical limitations, such as fatigue and poor balance, that limit my world compared to before being diagnosed. Others may have lost their fertility, limbs or bear other physical and emotional scars. Beyond that, cancer is a betrayal; our body is literally killing itself and acts in ways that defy sense. First Descents is the anti-dote to all of this. While there are many things I can't do compared to my pre-cancer self, one thing I can do is kayak. And to learn something that requires physical exertion and balance, has given me a newfound confidence that is difficult to explain. While my physicians prevented me from dying (for which I am incredibly grateful), FD helped teach me how to live.

5

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Seeing firsthand the approach that First Descents takes to young adult cancer, via kayaking as adventure therapy, has revolutionized my thinking on how an organization can use adventure sports to give back and how effective that gift can be to each and every participant and volunteer!

2

Client Served

Rating: 5

This was my second full week experience with First Descents (FD). As a returning camper to their adult cancer survivors kayak camp, I expected nothing but a memorable experience - and I was not disappointed! FD provides adults with both a physical and emotional experience by connecting them with other adult survivors in a comfortable environment. Between the kayaking, the food, staff/volunteer support, and the sharing of personal triumphs and struggles - you almost forget it cost your health to attend. By connecting with more survivors and mixing in an activity that some of us would never have encountered on our own, FD has created the perfect blend for adults to rejuvenate and inspire.

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

I recently returned from my first week with First Descents. It was life changing! I met some of the most amazing people in my life that week, campers and staff included. I loved the adventure of kayaking but mostly enjoyed being surrounded by people filled with strength, courage and an abundent willingess to live life to the fullest. FD creates an atmosphere that is unrivaled! The Ludden family is amazing for creating this opportunity for young cancer survivors and I hope to do my best to assist them in furthering their efforts and to continue to experience First Descents for years to come!

6

Client Served

Rating: 5

I have recently come back from my third camp as a camper at first descents. It is a place you go to challenge your self and finally feel you hace control over what you do. The staff is thare to watch you and help you when you need it and will make shure you feel safe. I would say this camp is the best one i have went to it really dosent even feel like a cancer camp. you are thare to make friends and have a good time and finally made to feel like you arent broken and you can do any thing.

11

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I recently worked as a volunteer at a First Descents Kayak Camp for young adults with cancer. The very positive attitude, support, and encouragement seemed to provide a wonderful experience for campers and staff alike. I hope to volunteer again.

3 cschmit8

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has been the most amazing thing that has happened in my life since cancer-if not my whole life. I recommend this camp to everyone I know with cancer. I get goosebumps just thinking about all the amazing bonds I've made within just the first day of knowing everyone! I felt more comfortable there than I ever have in my entire life. I'm absolutely in love with FD and would one day like to become a counselor! This experience has changed my life forever! The best thing about FD is that they push you in kayaking no matter what you're skill level is. I look forward to going back next year!!! :) Thank you, FD, for the best time of my life!

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is an amazing organization that centers on offering a camp experience like no other. It provides a great opportunity for young survivors to test their emotional and physical strength, to become strong again. I had never had the chance to go to camp as a kid. Before going, I had joked that this was my last chance to attend since I was almost at the age cut off (since it focuses on young survivors.) During my week at camp, I was challenged physically more than I could imagine, but never more than I was willing. I always felt safe and incredibly supported by all of the staff and safety boaters. I learned kayaking skills and had incredible experiences on the water. But the comraderie and support off the water was just as important. First Descents may have taught me how to kayak, but it also taught me how to live, Without Fear.

12

Client Served

Rating: 5

I am at a loss for words when it comes to describing First Descents, but I'll try my best. First Descents provided me with an incredible experience that allowed me to truly "live my life to the fullest," a feat I had never actually tried to achieve before. I was able to share a week of adventure, relaxation, and fun with a terrific group of volunteers and other young adult cancer survivors who allowed me to feel as if I could completely be myself. It was the first time in 3 years, since my cancer diagnosis, that I truly felt comfortable. I was able to finally be myself in a place that was SO different from where I live and from the way I live my life. I am so grateful for the experience and can honestly say that the way I view and live my life has been changed after the week I spent in Montana. I'm so inspired by the experience, as well as by the people I met, that I am continuing to live my life to the fullest and have just signed up to train for a half-marathon, something that would never have been on my "to do list" previously. I hope to be able to experience First Descents once again in the future and look forward to it more than anything else.

10

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First descents was an incredible experience, both for me as a volunteer and for the participants. Looking back at the video of the week and comparing the first tentative wobbles of the participants as they entered the current for the first time and comparing that with the footage from the end of the week where the entire group aced Graduation Rapid is very moving to me and still brings tears to my eyes because I am so proud and blessed to know everyone that I met at FD. To watch people come out of their shell and go from being scared or intimidated to enjoying things and being playful with what once scared them was amazing (and the parallels to life are obvious there too...). I think kayaking is a great thing for cancer survivors because it is a great equalizer. In paddling gear everyone just looks like a kayaker. Way to go FD!

11

Client Served

Rating: 5

Cancer took away my self confidence. First Descents gave it back. They don't tell you to take it easy or baby you the way everyone else around you has. They want you to jump in and take control of yourself again. I'm tearing up just writing about it because the volunteers, staff, and other campers bring such joy out in each other that it's really hard to describe the feelings that you have while your at camp and when you get home. First Descents for me is was a life saver!

10

Client Served

Rating: 5

You get to camp and are scared but then you remember that being scared is nothing new after going through all you have been through with your illness. Then you jump in, literally, to the water and start to aclimate to the world of kayaking. Kayaking lingo, kayaking thrills, start to become your focus and you forget the past, time becomes eternal, as you master the physicology of it all. The warmth, support and love of all the expert and dedicated staff reminds you just what matters in this world, not that you needed a reminder. By the end of the week your body is in better condition, even if you still feel sore. Lifetime friends are made and the place in your heart that expands to make room for more happiness grows bigger. It feels all so magical but it really is a result of all the positive energy that flows back and forth among everyone. It is a tremendous adventure, not to be missed. Adventure therapy-was definitely coined at First Descents!

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

When you are going through cancer treatment your family and significant other might try to understand what you are going through but no one knows better than other cancer survivors. First Descent's gave me a chance to get away from the harsh reality and enjoy the outdoors while learning how to kayak with other survivors that have gone through similar scenarios. For me, there was nothing better than connecting with nature while connecting with peers in which I can comfortably talk about cancer.

6

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is the most powerful organization I have seen. I attended First Descents and was blown away, not only by the staff and experience, but by the inspiring atmosphere that the campers help create. It provided an escape from treatment, motivating and EMPOWERING cancer survivors to beat their disease and take control of their lives.

8

Volunteer

Rating: 0

I have had the unique opportunity of working with First Descents since their 2nd year. I first was a fundraiser, then volunteer, director and ironically now cancer survivor! It is tough to put into words what First Descents does that other organizations cannot. FD gives a renewed hope and a sense of accomplishment that is robbed from some people that have had cancer. Cancer makes you realize the magnitude of which you rely on others....not just for self-definition....but mere existence! This camp taps into the inner core of each person who attends.....both camper and counselors alike. I can and have written long stories all about First Descents and what this camp is/can do! This place is a powerful and amazing experience that needs to be able to expand in order to touch lives of those who need it! I hope this helps scratch the surface of what an amazing camp this is.

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it to all young adult cancer patients. The staff was great, the kayaking was awesome and hanging out with other young adult cancer patients was something no one else could provide for me. This organization deserves our support because they truly are helping young adult cancer survivors.

9

Volunteer

Rating: 5

After my first week as a volunteer at First Descents I almost felt guilty that I had taken away so much from my time at camp. I was supposed to be helping the participants, young adults with cancer aged 18-34, and they ended up changing my life. The participants arrived at camp and immediately jumped into the FD programming. Most campers arrived at camp ready for anything. Others were guarded, shy and not so sure about the whole kayaking as treatment program. The best part was that they all left empowered and ready to deal with whatever life had to hand them. They have inspired me to appreciate my life, not sweat the small stuff and most importantly, raise as much money for First Descents as possible. Over the past two years my husband has raised almost 200K for First Descents. Since my week at camp, I have taken on a number of admin. jobs for FD that I can do from my home in Maryland. All the volunteering I do for them is better than any sales commission that I have ever received. The feeling of giving back to this amazing organization is indescribable. The impact First Descents has on its participants is truly unbelievable. I feel lucky to be a part of the FD family.

15

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has been one of the most meaningful experiences I have had since being diagnosed with cancer at 25. The experience was based on outdoor adventure and putting myself out there with others who have gone through what I have gave me so much hope and stregnth. Being surrounded by such positive energy and optimism and spirit was healing. First Descents made me whole again.

16

Client Served

Rating: 5

One of the most difficult parts of being diagnosed and treated for cancer as a young adult is the isolation experienced during and after the barbaric treatments we are forced to endure. As a three time cancer survivor, at the age of thirty, I have taken advantage of the programs offered by First Descents for two years, and will continue doing so as long as I am able. The sense of community amongst survivors, which is built at each camp create life-long bonds between those of us who understand what it is like to have had the rug pulled out from under us by a life-threatening illness. The support I have gotten from everyone I have met at camp keeps me motivated while kayaking, and throughout the year.

15 NoMo

Client Served

Rating: 5

May name is Richard Harvey. I am a 4 year brain cancer survivor and I count my 2008 First Descents Whitewater Kayaking Camp as one of most empowering, exciting and beautiful experiences of my adult life. First Descents’ mission is to help young adult cancer survivors recover their sense of physical and mental wellness. I arrived at camp grateful that they had provided my camp experience free of charge. I was going to get to do something I never would have been able to afford do or to set up on my own. When we arrived, First Descent leadership gave all of us new campers nicknames; one’s with attitude like Slick, Carney and for me NoMo (for NoMo Chemo Man). It was a signal that now it was time for each of us to find the can-do rough-and -tumble personas going through cancer had beaten down in us. Each new day at a First Descents Camp meant a new level of challenge for me. The ample professional staff to camper ratio ensured my safety and success. Many of the staff members were volunteers from the medical and kayaking communities. I was grateful for their loving support and the sense of stewardship for the sport that they love that they engendered in us campers. The leadership at my camp went to inspiring lengths to accommodate the varying levels of physical wellness and coordination in the group of survivors at my camp. I learned about the beauty of being on the river. I learned that kayaking is a great way to be with nature without causing any damage. I never would have guessed on the first day of camp what I was capable of doing by the end. I have shared information about First Descents with anyone who was willing to listen as I attended brain tumor conferences this year because I believe this program is truly transformative for young adult survivors. I am grateful I will be back for another camp in 2009.

11

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First Descents was first brought to my attention in Vail, CO and I was an admirer from the sidelines. Little did I know it would be part of our daughter's experience a little over a year ago! Since then my husband and I volunteered at a hugely successful fund raiser, meeting the founders Brad and Corey who are totally committed and the coolest guys on the planet. FD was empowering, rewarding, a learning and teaching experience, humbling, and positive in a world which was being viewed negatively because of the cancer diagnosis.

14

Client Served

Rating: 5

When I learned I had cancer, I felt completely out of control. I felt my body was not my own. Doctors knew more about my body than I did. Doctors would inject me with poison. I felt out of control. And then? My brother and friend convinced me to go to a First Descents Camp. One of the most incredible feelings of my life was finally learning how to roll the kayak (from upside down in the water to right-side up above water). I had been underwater, unable to breathe or see, about to freak out...then I collected my thoughts, moved my body and my paddle in the precise right way, and BOOM. I was up. I could breathe. I could see. I had done it. I was safe and heading down the river. I was back in control of MY body. My FD experience was absolutely incredible. I can't imagine healing so intensely any other way.

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

I think a big part of having cancer as a young adult involves trying to let the world know that you are still a normal 20-something. For me that meant pretending cancer never happened or that it had no impact on my life. FD was such an amazing experience because it allowed us all to feel like perfectly normal 20-somethings that happened to be cancer survivors. First descents let me open up and assess the impact cancer really had on me and talk about it with other survivors without feeling like my life was a pity party.

11

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is wonderful nonprofit that helps to fill a niche for young adults that have had cancer. The kayaking is great with one-on-one guides and amazingly healthy foods. I appreciate the opportunity to meet other young survivors! Brad and Corey, co-founders are pure geniuses!

11

Client Served

Rating: 5

At First Descents, the reaction to my cancer wasn't a pitying gasp or awe-tinged shock, reactions that I got a lot after being diagnosed at 17. Instead, my fellow campers offered empathy, encouragement, and assurance that life goes on after cancer. My week on the river introduced me to an incredible and inspiring community, led me to rediscover the joy of physical achievement, and helped me make the transition from being a patient to being a survivor.

11

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First Descents was an amazing experience i have been going for two years. it has definately shed the light on what we can do if we put our minds to it. i truely love what they do, and admire what they do cause it takes very special people who reach out to cancer survivors and i truely appreciate being able to come to this camp and show what i can do outside of my comfort zone.

7

Volunteer

Rating: 5

As a volunteer at First Descents for several camps over the years, I can say with confidence that THERE IS NOTHING LIKE FIRST DESCENTSOUT THERE. Not only does FD pay for young adults to spend a week in the outdoors, but it empowers them for life. I still keep in touch with my friends from camp and know that their stories and courage will be with me for life. I may have taught them how to paddle, but they have shown me what true determination is.

12

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents blew my expectations out of the water! I signed up for an adventure camp with hopes to step out of my comfort zone. Being a cancer survivor got me into the camp but living to my potential and beyond helped me finish my camp. I walked away with a new found appreciation and desire to live every moment with everything I have. FD has changed my life and I cannot imagine my life without my new FD family.