First Descents Ball raises $800,000 at The Ritz | VailDaily.com

First Descents Ball raises $800,000 at The Ritz

Betty Ann Woodland
High Altitude Society

On a beautiful, warm March 24th evening, a caring group of individuals came together at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in support of First Descents, an organization committed to improving survivorship for young adults impacted by cancer.

Armed with a prescription for adventure, participants in the nonprofit engage in activities including rock climbing, surfing and kayaking. Guests joined First Descents as they raised paddles and funds in support of their mission to provide life-changing outdoor adventures for these young adults.

Founder Brad Ludden was congratulated on 18 years of First Descents programming and honored for his unwavering and unstoppable spirit.

"We didn't necessarily know what First Descents was or what it would become when we started this journey back in 2001, but we do now," Ludden said. "First Descents is all of you. It's our participants, our volunteers, our staff and those who donate time, money and ideas to this phenomenon. It's coming together and cheering each other on and tapping into the most human element in a way that cracks our adventurous spirits wide open."

In 2015, First Descents partnered with researchers at the University of Michigan to continue to study quantitative and qualitative success of their programming. The research showed that participants felt an increase in resiliency, confidence in their physical abilities and felt like they had more resources to navigate the health system and their own treatment schedules.

On this evening, Ludden and his supporters were celebrating the many successes of First Descents and the healing power of nature and outdoor adventure.

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After Ludden's warm, welcoming speech to the crowd, dinner was served. The meal was paired with wonderful live music. Executive director Ryan O'Donoghue gave a stirring speech and then it was onto the live auction with prizes including trips to Paris, Bali, the Seychelles, the Italian Coast and, of course, to the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch.

AWARDS

A special Out Living It award was presented to Jennifer Jackson.

"Since 2011, Jennifer has been a devoted member of the First Descents tribe and the purest example of the Out Living It spirit," Ludden said. "She has been a powerful advocate for First Descents introducing hundreds of people to FD. As a physician herself, she understands the importance of adventure and community for healing, and has been a dynamic voice in the young adult cancer community."

Chad McWhinney was presented with the Horizon Line Award for his guidance in helping First Descents become a renowned national organization that continues to extend the healing power of adventure to more young adults impacted by cancer every year.

The evening wound down with the crowd-pleasing, high-energy music of the Syndicate Band.

For more information on programs, volunteering and community events, visit http://www.firstdescents.org.

Betty Ann Woodland is a longtime local who covers social events including fundraisers for nonprofits, local happenings and soirees of all kinds. She can be reached at bettyannw6@gmail.com.