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Adventuring On With First Descents: an Interview with Hustler

By: Anna "06" Kenyon and Mike "Hustler" Burek

First Descents is excited to announce the launch of our first ever summer appeal: The Adventure ON! campaign.  Now that we have reached the half-way point of peak programs season, we continue to dedicate ourselves to empowering young adults with cancer to Adventure On.  First Descents is committed to extending the healing power of adventure to more young adults with cancer through our week-long FD1 programs as well as our rapidly growing multi-day Local Adventure programs, FDTribs.

I sat down with FD Alum, Hustler, to talk about his First Descents experience, and his new role as a leader of our multi-day local adventure programs.  Hustler shared his unique and thoughtful perspective on adventuring with FD.  Here’s what he had to say:

FD: How did you get involved with First Descents?

Hustler: Since I was a 24-year-old getting treated in a children’s hospital I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb in the clinic. One day, a nurse working in the hospital, who also happened to be a First Descents alumna, approached me and gave me a card for FD and just told me I had to do it and I said “OK!”

A couple months after I finished treatment, I went to my first program with First Descents which was a weekend of skiing in Breckenridge as part of a FD Tributaries program. I stayed fairly involved with the Denver Trib the following year until I finally went on my FD1 in May of 2015, which was a kayaking program in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. I had gotten little nibbles of FD through the Tributaries programs, but after my week in the Smokies I was absolutely hooked on FD adventures.

FD: What does adventure mean to you? Why is it important to you?

Hustler: I think of adventure as anything that has the power to challenge you or to change you. Although growing up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains sent me on countless adventures, it was really First Descents that taught me that adventure can help you grow stronger and make you a better person. I also think adventure isn’t limited to some extreme activity or exotic location. I think anything in my life that acts as a catalyst for change can be considered an adventure. It can be something as simple as a short conversation with a stranger, or something as troubling as long nights in the hospital getting chemo.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis and getting involved with First Descents has shown me that the smallest ripple in our daily lives can turn into waves of change in the future. Opening my mind and my heart to new adventures, good or bad, is important to me because they challenge me to become a better version of myself. I think it is impossible to fully understand the embodiment of your soul, but the quest for self-discovery is the ultimate adventure. This mindset reminds me that I should never become complacent with who I am or the person I hope to become. In short, adventure is not just something you do, it’s a philosophy of life that can be applied to any new experience.

FD: Describe a memory from one of your FD adventures that stands out in your mind. This can be funny, goofy, serious, sad, whatever comes to mind.

Hustler: One of my favorite memories is from my first FD1 program where I learned to whitewater kayak. It was our first day learning the basics on the lake and I was trying to soak up all of the knowledge I could. One of the lead staff members took me aside and asked if I wanted to try a roll. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and everything was so brand new to me, but I just threw caution to the wind and gave it a try.

Apparently, I was trying to execute a butterfly roll, but really I was just trying not to swim out of my boat. To my surprise (along with the befuddlement of the lead staff and instructors) I actually rolled up on my very first day of kayaking! It was definitely a day I will never forget and is one of the defining moments in my life. After that day I realized that the fear of falling down can be overcome by the fear of never taking the leap. That day can also be seen as the beginning of a pattern of behavior where despite fear, doubt, insecurity, or criticism, I should accept each new opportunity that comes my way, whether I’m ready for it or not.

FD: How do First Descents adventures differ from the other adventures you take part in?

Hustler: I consider myself a fairly decent outdoorsman and I have always looked for new ways to explore the outdoors and connect with the natural world. Seeing new places and trying new sports or activities has always been in my nature, but FD adventures have an indescribable feeling that is integrated into them.

When you throw a bunch of people together who have been through hell and have overcome many of the same obstacles, you provide an opportunity for their strength and courage to shine bright. Throughout my adventures with FD, I have learned that courage and confidence are contagious. As cancer patients, we spend so much effort and energy being strong for those around us like our friends, family, coworkers, and even our caretakers. In the chaos of events that come with a cancer diagnosis, you rarely get the chance to be brave for yourself. I think FD adventures provide us with that opportunity. The challenges we take on together forge bonds between us that can only be measured in the laughs or the tears we share, and can’t be broken by time or distance. We give each other the courage to redefine our lives by carrying each other in our hearts when we face adversity and the unknown.

FD: What does Adventuring On with First Descents mean to you and how are you Adventuring on with FD right now?

Hustler: Adventuring On with First Descents means never stop challenging myself. I hope to continue to embrace new experiences and dive head first into the unknown. It is up to me to sail full speed ahead into the uncharted waters of my future, and Adventuring On can help point the compass that guides me along that journey.

Right now I am adventuring on with FD by leading Tributaries programs across the country and sharing my passion for adventure and spreading the Out Living It spirit. It is very humbling when my peers in the FD community place their faith in me to guide them through new experiences. It has forced me to place a lot of faith in myself to continue to be a leader and an inspiration to others out there.

FD: How have First Descents adventures changed your perspective or altered a previously held conception you’ve had?

Hustler: Before finding First Descents, I would often worry about things that are outside of my control. FD adventures have taught me to be present in all aspects of my life. I always try to live in the moment and not dwell on the past or stress about the future. I have realized that tomorrow’s problems will still be there waiting for me so I see no reason to attempt to solve them today. I think if you worry too much about what happened yesterday or what could happen tomorrow, you will miss out on what’s happening today.

I also have a much different concept of time than most people. Staying present in the moment and filling my days with adventures has transformed the days, into weeks, and the months into years. I’m coming up on my 10-year high school reunion soon and when I hear people say “I can’t believe it’s been that long already!” I am unable to share the sentiment. Soaking up every single memory with FD has helped me appreciate the time I have already been given. When I reflect on the past, I always recount the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, and the places I’ve been, and at only 27 years old, I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime.

FD: Finally, what do you most appreciate about the First Descents adventure experience? In what ways does it fuel you, heal you, challenge you, or empower you?

Hustler: I most appreciate being able to witness the transformation it causes in my peers in the FD community, as well as within myself. The FD experience has taught me how to live courageously and passionately through any obstacle, and seeing that transformation occur in cancer fighters and survivors other than myself has been one of life’s greatest rewards. I always leave an FD adventure standing a little taller, laughing a little louder, and with a heart a little fuller than before. This feeling carries me through the dark days and reminds me that regardless of whatever life throws at me, there will always be an adventure out there waiting for me; ready to challenge my body or my mind, eager to change me in ways I never expected, and looking to fill my heart with hope.


“Every great adventure is built upon three key things: the places that you’re in, the people that you’re with, and the challenges that you’re facing.” – Brad Ludden, Founder

With our peak program season currently underway, we invite you to support our life-changing outdoor adventure experiences for your adults impacted by cancer.  Your support will help extend the healing power of adventure to more than 1,200 participants in 2017!

Donate to First Descents Adventure ON! campaign here.

 

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