Cancer survivors to race in Vail |

Cancer survivors to race in Vail

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyProfessional kayaker and Vail Valley resident Brad Ludden (left) and Team Beyond Cancer member Matt Hayne paddle together.

VAIL, Colorado ” When Matt Hayne barrels down the singletrack of Colorado’s Vail Mountain during the Teva Mountain Games this June, he’ll be on a quest for much more than the title for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.

The 26-year-old Hayne is one of three cancer survivors that make up the adventure racing trio Team Beyond Cancer. The team members all attended First Descents, a Vail-based non-profit program that puts young adults recovering from cancer on the rivers through a week-long whitewater kayaking and outdoor adventure camp.

Now, the First Descents alumni are back on the rivers and on the trails together, but this time, their goal is to give others the same opportunity they had.

The team, made up of Hayne, 22-year-old Thatcher Bean of Boulder, and 21-year-old Kelsey Wolfe of Boulder, aims to raise at least $20,000 this season, enough to send 20 participants to camp.

“They all come to First Descents never having competed,” said Brad Ludden, professional kayaker and founder of the nonprofit. “First Descents brought all these guys together and challenged them in the outdoors. Now they’re giving back.”

Hayne, now a Ph.D. student at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a fast-moving, aggressive cancer, when he was 16. The ensuing six months of chemotherapy left him physically depleted and emotionally drained.

As a student who had excelled in academics and run on the cross country team, Hayne said the treatment turned his world upside down.

“It wrecked me as a distance runner,” he said. “I had made state the previous year, and to go from that to having trouble walking across the room on my own was difficult. At first I didn’t even know what to do. Then I became really angry and bitter about the whole thing, asking, ‘Why me?'”

He attended First Descents at age 18, having never kayaked, and fell in love with the camp and the sport. Not only did the camp challenge him and force him to push his limits, but he found other young adults who could relate with his experience.

“It was a unique experience to be able to sit down and look across at the person you’re talking to, and know that they know exactly what you’re talking about,” he said. “That was the first connection I’d had like that.”

Hayne returned as a camp counselor and now enjoys seeing the camp participants successfully conquer the rapids.

“After cancer, everyone tells you to be careful, don’t push yourself too hard,” he said. “You come to camp, and the sport doesn’t take it easy on you. The river treats everyone equally. Brad (Ludden) will take you down the toughest section if that’s what you want to do.”

Ludden, who will be cheering on Team Beyond Cancer from the sidelines, said that the team is a perfect example of how the camps can push participants to live more active lifestyles after cancer.

“Cancer kind of sends everyone back to this place and they deal with a lot of fear and insecurity and a lack of self-confidence,” he said. “They get the feeling that they’re not physically capable, but this experience says, ‘You can do anything now because you have cancer.”

Hayne said there is very little complaining when the team trains ” the suffering of a hard trail run or grinding up a hill on a bike is nothing compared to cancer treatment, he said.

The team is also competing with another athlete in mind. The team’s fourth member, Nick Raitt, planned to compete in the bike portion of the games, but had to drop out due to a sudden relapse in his cancer earlier this year.

“It’s just a sign that the dark cloud of cancer is always kind of present,” Ludden said. “We’re cheering for him in a much different kind of challenge.”

The team may compete in more adventure races this season, and are seeing an outpouring of monetary support for First Descents. The Teva Mountain Games will be the team’s first race together.

“I’m really looking forward to showing everyone, that even though we had cancer, we’re not using it as a crutch, but even as motivation,” Hayne said. “When it comes down to it, we can dig deep down and know that it’s nothing compared to what we’ve been through.”

Donate to Team Beyond Cancer or learn more about the team at

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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