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2009 Top-Rated Nonprofit

First Descent

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Camps, Health, Health Support, Sports


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

1 Story from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters


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


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!