First Descents helps cancer survivors |

First Descents helps cancer survivors

Caramie SchnellVail CO, Colorado
AE First Descents PU 4-4-07

Paddles will be raised Saturday in honor of First Descents, but they’re not the treading-water sort of paddles – more of the auction accord. And they’ll be flashed to raise money for First Descents – the non-profit dedicated to healing young adults with cancer. The national organization, which provides whitewater kayaking camps for cancer survivors, is based in the Vail Valley. And their mission is to “promote emotional, psychological and physical healing for young adults with cancer,” according to the group’s mission statement.First Descent’s first-ever charity ball is Saturday night at the Sonnenalp Resort. Committee members have spent the past few months organizing the event and soliciting auction items.On the docket is a one-week stay at a condo in Tuscany, Italy; a seven-day Caribbean Cruise for two in an on-deck stateroom; a Lance Armstrong meet-greet-and-ride in Portland, Ore.; and a one-week stay in a private two-bedroom penthouse in Playa Del Carmen.”Our committee has been absolutely amazing. They’ve never done an event and they just stepped up and tried to think out of the box,” said Allan Goldberg, First Descents executive director.

Lofty goalsThe goal for the event is to raise $100,000. Kelley Brupbacher, the event committee chairperson, said she thinks it’s an “easy goal,” given the donations that have come in from people who couldn’t attend and that nearly 90 percent of the $175 tickets to the event have already sold.”We’ve had a great response locally; we had a lot of donations to kick start the event,” Brupbacher said.The money raised from ticket sales and the auction items will go toward adding new camps to the coming summer’s lineup, Goldberg said. Last year nearly 100 cancer survivors, ages 18-40, participated in First Descents kayaking camps at no cost. By 2010, Goldberg wants that number increased to 1,000 people per summer.

“It’s a lofty goal,” Goldberg said. “But that’s what we want to do … we see the Vail Valley as a place of healing, not just a place to come and ski.”In early March, Goldberg and Brad Ludden, pro-kayaker and founder of First Descents, did a recruiting tour to some of the largest medical centers around the country.”We traveled to nine cities in 10 days,” Goldberg said, meeting with social workers, nurses and doctors and telling them about First Descents and setting up partnerships. “The biggest conduit to getting people to our program are the medical centers – they see the benefits.”What Goldberg and Ludden found on their travels is that there are no other camps like First Descent that focus on the 18- to 40-year-olds. Most of them cater to children up to 18 years old. This is disheartening considering cancer kills more 20-to-39 year olds than any other disease, according to There are an estimated 500,000 young adult cancer survivors in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 40. While survival rates for both younger and older patients have increased over the years, young adult rates have remained stagnant since 1975, according to the Lance Armstrong Foundation.Eventually First Descents wants to expand their focus beyond kayaking into other adventure sports.

There is a direct correlation between survival rates and physical activity among cancer patients, Goldberg said. The same template used in the kayaking camps will be used for the new adventure sports, Goldberg said.”We’re letting cancer patients challenge themselves, so their cancer is part of their tapestry, but doesn’t define them.” Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or

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