“ Spread your love always so that when you need it, you can have all of those relationships to help shoulder the burden of diagnosis and treatment.
Corey “Daryl” Nielsen is a mAss Kicker “on a boat.” We met Corey years ago at the inaugural First Descents surf camp, First Wave in 2011. Corey’s journey has taken a very interesting path. Corey earned 2 national championship medals in kayaking and had the honor of coaching at 1996 Olympic games. In 1999, he was training and racing whitewater kayak slalom with hopes of making the US Olympic Whitewater Team when First Descents Founder, Brad Ludden asked him to help get First Descents off the ground. Corey splits his time in Durango, CO and on his boat sailing around the world! We were fortunate to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.
mK: Thanks for doing this Corey! How did you get involved with First Descents? What do you do?
CN: I was lucky enough to be seated next to Brad Ludden on the island of Sumatra in 1999 when he had the brainstorm for FD. I was just finishing up a “career” in racing kayaks and had some time and energy to dedicate to something else my heart felt strongly about! I am currently one of the Global Experiential Developers for FD with Willie Kern, my cohort and friend. We are the stewards of the FD program experience and help to design and deliver the camps, train the lead staff that facilitate those camps, and we are liaisons with our FD Alum to keep the dream alive!
mK: What is your nickname? What is the story behind it?
CN: I am “Daryl” and yes, Brad is the “other” Daril. We have had many incarnations over the years (Maverick/Goose, Dumb/Dumber, etc) but nothing ever stuck until a camper told us about the chicks she raised (she raised egg-laying hens for a living) and currently had three of them that she couldn’t sex and so she just named them Larry, Daryl, and Daril. Everyone looked over at Brad and I and it just happened – the names stuck! Ironically, my sister happened to be at that program volunteering and she was naturally the “Larry” to our Daril and Daryl! There you have it.
mK: HAHAHA! What motivates you?
CN: Real, genuine relationships and being present in my life. At the ripe old age of 43 (yes I am too old for FD programs!), I have cut through a lot of the you-know-what in life and I find my friendships in life and with my FD amigos are defined by this realness and that is what makes me tick. That and surfing off of my sailboat in Mexico (where I live 6 months out of the year and am currently conducting this interview! Hard to beat the natural beauty of the ocean and life aquatica for true inspiration and motivation!)
mK: Cool! That’s the life! How did you get into kayaking? Surfing?
CN: I grew up with a set of brothers (not my own but you know what I mean) that started me down the road of adventure and kayaking at an early age and from there I just fell in love with moving water and the challenge. Eventually I moved to Costa Rica (probably before you were born – ha) and worked running big and fun rivers all over Central America with an ecotourism company. While I was there, I met the US National Whitewater Team and realized that was what I wanted to do. I focused my entire life on competing and racing for a spot on the US Olympic Team. Well, I got close but without a doubt my life trajectory training and racing at that level changed my life and the foundations of who I am for the better and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
mK: Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
CN: Easy, our FD participants. There is no way to understand the courage, the bravado (bravada), and the relentless dedication to life (on whatever terms works for a person) that I have seen in my FD friends. I can only be in awe of their pluck and valor in my own life but it has changed how I see the world and how I live my life.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
CN: The world seems to be hurting more than ever as people become more isolated and fearful of truly being out there living it all with an open heart and mind. That makes me sadder than just about anything. But, I know that we are just a speck of stardust in a vast and crazy universe and that realization makes me laugh because hey, life is a crazy and absurd event anyway and the big wheel keeps on turning despite our efforts to derail our own lives!
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
CN: Aside from helping Brad get FD to where it is today (no small effort I can assure you), I think buying a sailboat. I must have been certifiably crazy to have jumped in with both feet on this one but ten years later, it has given me the medium to learn so much about myself and reflect on all the things I have done and seen in my own life. Nothing like weeks and months of a quiet and vast ocean to make you think EVERYTHING is interesting.
mK: Sometimes, you have to take that leap of faith! Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
CN: Finding the confidence to re-engage in a life that will look and feel nothing like the “old” life they knew. There is the term “the new normal” and I like that and I am simply astonished at how much a cancer diagnosis and treatment robs people of the life they knew. The challenge to come to a new and inspired place after this happens can take superhuman effort and I have had the honor of witnessing this first hand but I am still blown away every time I meet new FD friends that are or have overcome this enormous challenge.
mK: Changing gears… What is your guilty pleasure?
CN: A head-high glassy on my new board when I probably should be making more of a contribution to human kind!
mK: If you could go back in time and do something over, what would you do?
CN: I would have kissed Christa Barker in the 5th grade rather than being such a chicken.
mK: HAHAHA! Where are you now? Where is your favorite place to travel? To live?
CN: I can probably just let the reader fill in this answer based on the above (hint: it has to do with a small boat in a big ocean – ha!) However, I am looking forward to going back to Europe with my lovely wife, Googley Bear, to work in a vineyard or whatever. As for living, I have been in Durango, Colorado playing hard for almost 25 years and I cannot imagine calling any other place “home!”
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
CN: Spread your love always so that when you need it, you can have all of those relationships to help shoulder the burden of diagnosis and treatment. Cull your loving friendships and family ties and play the C card with anyone and everyone to help you down that road. I know the cancer is ultimately a singular act but a lot of laughter and friendship can help to ease the trauma.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
CN: I listen to classical music to keep my mind still like 23 hours a day. I tend to wander a lot in my head and I need all the help I can get to stay focused!
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
CN: Simply this, you are my heroes. Period. They say that the universe doesn’t put anything in our path that we cannot handle but sometimes it seems with YA cancer survivors that the very limits are pushed and to that I am deeply astonished at their resilience.
Corey Nielsen: Captain of the “USS Daryl’s Boat”, civilized classical music connoisseur, wanna-be-elementary school casanova, world traveler, nephew of Leslie, Long time First Descents ambassador, and mAss Kicker approved cool dude! If you are a young adult survivor, a First Descents trip is a can’t miss!