First Descents: Fighting Cancer in a Kayak

As cancer-hating organizations go, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Livestrong grab a lot of attention. But for active types looking to help raise money or aid people suffering from the disease, another worthy cause is an organization called First Descents. Launched by pro kayaker Brad Ludden about a decade ago, the Colorado-based nonprofit is committed to “curing young adults of the emotional effects of cancer.” This is accomplished via “outdoor adventure therapy” and activities like kayaking and rock climbing.

First Descents program

Since 2000, First Descents has hosted more than 800 young adults with cancer. The organization started as a one-off camp in Vail, Colo., in 2001 with 14 participants. Today, it has grown to 14 programs in six states around the country.

Week-long kayak courses are a mainstay with the organization, which believes in “therapy through kayaking” and the community of people who make up the sport.

Pre-paddle group meeting

This year, the organization has a goal to raise a half-million dollars in the fight against cancer. In 2010, fundraisers and athletes joined “Team FD” to raise about $180,000 for the First Descents program. This year, they hope to up the ante.

See the video above for an overview of the organization. And help First Descents with a small donation to their unique, life-affirming program found on whitewater rivers in Colorado and beyond.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of A version of this post ran originally on Gear Junkie’s blog on, a USA Today property.

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.


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