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Paddling for cancer

J.K. Perry
Special to the DailyProfessional kayaker Brad Ludden, pictured at the rear, founded First Descents, a series of week-long camps in Colorado and Montana for young adults battling cancer.
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VAIL ” Four years removed from treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma, Matt Hayne of Golden embarked on a Colorado kayaking trip for young adults suffering from cancer.

There Hayne, of Golden, found other like-minded people struggling against cancer.

“What keeps me coming back each year is the survivorship and the community,” Hayne said. “Everybody there knows what you’re talking about. It’s great to have that group of friends to hang out and talk to.”



The 23-year-old Colorado School of Mines student is in his sixth year of remission and a three-year veteran of Vail-based First Descents, a nonprofit group that sends 18- to 30-year-olds battling cancer to week-long kayaking camps for free.

To raise money for campers, First Descents holds a fundraiser dubbed “Paddle-A-Thon” each year. This year, the first event takes place July 22 in Golden, followed on July 29 by a five-mile paddle from Rancho Del Rio to State Bridge.



Participants can solicit donations for each mile paddled or raise a flat fee donation. Last year the event raised $40,000 to send 60 kayakers to camp. This goal this year is to double last year’s total, said First Descents founder, professional kayaker and Gypsum resident Brad Ludden.

The week-long camps are aimed at young adults, about 500,000 of whom suffer from cancer, said Jamie Corder, manager of First Descents.

The 18 to 30-year-old demographic is the most under served section of cancer patients, Corder said. Oftentimes, a cancer diagnosis at this age is detrimental because of financial insecurity and a lack of support groups.



“When you’re a teen or young adult, that’s the point of life where you’re trying to be who you are and you go through a traumatic experience and there’s nobody there,” Hayne said. “I think it’s something extremely important to have, especially for this age group.”

“We find it’s really a devastating age to be diagnosed,” Corder said. “We feel like we’re on the inventive front of the young adult cancer demographic.”

Ludden began boating at age nine, went professional at 15 and founded First Descents in 2001 at age 19. Now 25, Ludden said several reasons spurred him to start the group; his aunt suffered from cancer, his mother raised funds for cancer causes and he wanted to do more than kayak.

He said he thinks the camps are important to the well-being of cancer patients and survivors.

“I would like to think it means a lot and the testimonials we receive after each week support that,” Ludden said. “This is a life-changing event for most of them. It helps them heal after they’ve gone through treatment.”

The program has grown to 60 campers divided into four groups. Two camps take place in Sweetwater and two in the northwest Montana town of Kalispell.

The campers kayak, rock climb and ride horses. Perhaps the most important part of the camp is the camaraderie among people with a shared disease.

“This is one of the only outlets where they have the opportunity to meet people like themselves and share their experiences with one another,” Ludden said.

Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or jkperry@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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