What is First Descents?

Monday, October 15, 2012
By, Brad Ludden
When I was in my mid teens, I had my first taste of what young adult cancer truly was.  My Aunt’s diagnosis showed me first hand how few resources were available for young adult cancer patients.  She had nowhere to turn, nobody to talk to and no way to take control of her situation.  She went from being a thriving 30 year old, newly married, successful business woman to a shadow of her former self.  She lost her breasts, her self confidence and her identity.  She was alone.  It was then that I felt, as so many relatives do, utterly helpless and needed to do something, if not for her, for me.  That’s when I taught her how to kayak.

It was that experience that led me to realize that the therapy of kayaking I had always known could be experienced by those in need.  I watched as my Aunt used the challenge of kayaking to regain control, identity and self confidence from her cancer.  She reclaimed her life and reminded herself that cancer didn’t define her and certainly didn’t make her fragile.  The only piece missing was other young adults to talk to and connect with.  That’s when I realized a need and the answer came in the form of First Descents, an organization that provides free outdoor adventure therapy to young adults with cancer.

In 2001 we held our first program.  That week, 15 young adults with cancer from around the country reclaimed their lives on the waters of the Colorado River.  It was then I knew that FD needed to continue and grow to meet the ever-growing demand.  Since then we have hosted 55 weeks of programming around the country and our program now includes kayakingmountaineering, rock climbing and even surfing.  The theory of our programs is simple- put participants through a legitimate, safe challenge and leave the rest to them.  Our competent staff is there to guide them through the experience but we believe that adventure is therapy enough and, after we are done on the river or rock, participants are free to relax, connect and laugh in a beautiful outdoor setting.  Bottom line, we don’t structure therapy, we leave that to nature. 

Next year we’re planning to expand to nearly 30 weeks of programming around the country and in Canada.  The programs are free to all who attend and travel scholarships are available based on need.  We’ve also added new “levels” of programming allowing for personal growth and new challenges each year.  After a few years of camp, participants might find themselves standing next to other young adult survivors and friend on the summit of Mt Hood or the take out of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.  We are also empowering our returning participants to fundraise for FD by joining TEAM FD and keeping challenge present in their lives while paying it forward.  TEAM FD  is a great grassroots fundraising platform where anyone can choose a challenge and, in the name of young adult cancer, set out to achieve it.  In doing so, you will raise money to send ya’s to FD.  In 2010, Ryan Sutter was our Team Captain and complete 10 grueling events in honor of FD’s 10th year anniversary with a goal of raising 100k.  I’m proud to say, HE DID IT!  Stay tuned for his 2011 challenge.  Click here to Contact someone about joining TEAM FD.

The money they raise will send first-time participants to camp.  We see it as an awesome step in their journey from diagnosis to survivor.

If you’re interested in attending or know someone who is, please message us here or visit our website to learn more about our programs.  You can also check out our “FD STORY” video about our organization.

Still not convinced?  Talk to Eric “Tubes” Galvez.  He rocked our kayak program and can give you a first-hand recount of his adventure.  Why do we call him “Tubes” you ask? Simple, every participant at camp receives a nickname upon arrival.  It’s an old tradition at FD and is the first step in taking control and defining your new life beyond cancer.  If nothing else, it makes for some good laughs.
See you out there!

Brad Ludden

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