Lead Staff

Matt Rusher - "CPTO"

I started volunteering for First Descents in 2009 after taking a paddling trip to SE Asia with Brad. I was inspired by what he was doing and, after almost 20 years of kayaking I wanted to “give back.” After my first camp, I realized that not only was I able to give back, but I got so much more in return. I was truly inspired by the courage and determination of the participants and all the love and commitment of the staff. I was hooked and, after being a volunteer counselor, photographer and a kayak guide, I’m now super stoked to be part of the FD Lead staff for 2015. I feel really lucky to be involved with FD and I am literally working with some of my heroes! I grew up in South Carolina but have now lived in Montana for 17 years. I love to kayak, surf, paddleboard, snowboard, skateboard, bike, travel and a good adventure off the beaten path. Now climbing, on the other hand, scares me a bit. So when you’re feeling gripped out there, you won’t be alone :o)

See you on the water (and the rocks)!

Adriene Levknecht - "Quickie"

Adriene has been known in the profession whitewater community for ten years now. She grew up in Southwest Michigan but always found a calling to the southern Appalachian mountains from when she was a young child. She moved south when she was finally legal to leave the nest of her parents and started pursuing her real life dreams, being a professional kayaker and a Paramedic. In the last 10 years, Adriene has kayaked in over 20 different countries and has been crowned victorious many times. Her high energy on and off the water helps her entertain people to all levels and she is more than stoked to be sharing that energy with everyone at First Descents.

Anya Bean - "Phishy"
Upon first hearing about First Descents, I knew that it was something I needed to be a part of. I wrote the staff a letter and the rest was history. After spending a few days with the group, I was fully enamored with the organization and am so excited to be a part of this amazing family. When I am not out galavanting with the crazies of FD, I am living the mountain babe lifestyle based out of Bozeman, MT and pursuing a peak a week and making every day another best day.
Jim Dickey - "Rut-Roh"

I originally never grew up in New England, a place that will always be dear to me; the Hermit Thrush is my favorite soundtrack. Luckily, I discovered this little bird is also out west, so I can bounce back and forth and never lose my tunes. Google it and listen for it.  The YouTube by Lang Elliot is great.

People think I like kayaking, skiing, surfing, and climbing. I actually prefer rivers, snow, oceans, and mountains; the games just provide the necessary tools and skills to immerse. People think I’ve been a camp counselor, climbing guide, Outward Bound instructor, photographer, river guide, catski guide…I just like being outside with people.

Big C bites. Let’s get outside!

Andrew Gonzales - "Pedro"

I currently live in the great state of Montana, where the abundance of outdoor pursuits keeps me busy and out of trouble. I love kayaking, plain and simple. I live through the idea that if you’re doing what you love all the time, you’re happy. I don’t go to work everyday wishing I was somewhere else. I get up and go to work everyday and I am stoked.  And that does not suck! I absolutely love First Descents and find sharing my passion for kayaking the greatest reward I could ever receive.

Nick Barbouletos - "Patch"

Hey I’m Patch! I’m from Bozeman, MT and this is my 6th year with FD.  When I’m not on the river you’ll catch sight of me sking at Big Sky on the Ski Patrol or volunteering with my local fire department. I try to spend as much time as I can going fast over water.  I truly believe that spending time with friends outside is the key to a happy life.  See you out there!

Tom Barry - "McStillin"

Tom was born and raised on Long Island and slowly realized that the mountains we too far away. A degree in Adventure Recreation and a passion for  Whitewater Kayaking and Skiing led him to Colorado, where he lives now. First Descents came along at the right time and helped combine Tom’s love for the outdoors with an incredibly powerful experience. When he’s not at FD you can find McStillin on the Arkansas River or instructing for the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, CO.

Ashlee Moskwa - "Rainier"

Born and raised in small town New England, Ashlee (aka Rainier), the youngest of three siblings, spent most of her childhood bouncing between the soccer field, basketball court, and ice rink. Cancer first entered her life as a freshman in high school, challenging her personal dreams and ambitions and introducing her to the world of medicine. Following Ashlee’s graduation from nursing school, an immense desire for adventure motivated her to drive 3300 miles cross country to start a career in Seattle as a pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant nurse.  The beautiful state of Washington – complete with rivers, lakes, mountains, volcanoes and the like – enabled Ashlee to develop a deep appreciation for the great outdoors.

After learning of FIRST DESCENTS by way of a magazine article, Ashlee volunteered as medical staff for her first program in 2011. It took just one week climbing in the Rockies with FIRST DESCENTS to fall head over heels in love with all that is FD. Currently a full time pediatric nurse in Chicago, she will be returning as both Lead Staff and medical volunteer. Forever an outdoor enthusiast and camp nurse at heart, Ashlee spends her free time rock climbing,  traveling, laughing, volunteering, and preparing for life’s next great adventure :)

Heather Herbeck - "Mrs. Robinson"

The Columbia River Gorge is my home, though I was born and raised most of my life in Southern MN.  After graduating with a BA in Exercise Science in Southern California, I moved back to MN and that’s when I found my best friend and husband of nearly 14 years.

My husband, Nate, taught me how to use the outdoors as my playground.  It was only when I met him did I get immersed into kayaking, mt biking, climbing and other outdoor sports.  And now . . . THIS IS MY LIFE!  Our lives revolve around getting outside and pushing limits.

I have made kayaking my profession.  As a sponsored athlete and kayak instructor, I push my personal skills but also enjoy sharing the passion and opportunity that was given to me.  I have been part of FD as the lead kayak instructor for the past 4 years.  I am excited to now be working directly with FD and experiencing a different approach to this organization.

I look forward to being a part of this FD team; being a part of changing lives; and, continuing to evolve and change mine.

Joanne Smith - "Pop Top"

Joanna Belmont Smith grew up in the beautiful Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts, never too far from the beaches of Cape Cod!  A sports lover since elementary school, Jo recognizes the importance of activity in every day life.  There is no sport that she hasn’t or wouldn’t try, including kayaking, surfing and climbing, the FD triad.  Jo graduated from Springfield College with a Bachelors of Science in Movement and Sports studies, and later earned a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership from Simmons College.  She is a PE and Health teacher by day, and an FD supporter in her spare time.  She has held such positions as Camp Mom, Photog, and now as Lead Staff with FD and looks forward to many more calls to duty.

Ben Williamson - "TBD"

Born the second son of two school teachers in what was once a small town of Bothell WA.  Ben started guiding in high school and has had a seasonal life ever since.  He moved to Bellingham WA to get a degree in outdoor recreation at Western Washington University and has made recreation into a lifestyle.  Now has a small place in Glacier WA, a town without cell phones, and skis 150 days a year as a professional ski patroller at Mt Baker Ski Area. He spends his time off in the winter snowmobiling and ski touring in the surrounding backcountry. In the summer when not working for First Descents, Ben  is a kayak guide for a family run guiding company, Anacortes Kayak Tours, in the San Juan Islands. In the  bit of summertime not working , Ben spends the rest his time mountain biking, paddling whitewater and sleeping in the pacific northwest.  Do what you love for work and you’ll never work a day in your life!