Braving the Shave

By: Bryan McKenzie

Bryan McKenzie first got involved with FD through the paddling community and later attended several programs as a volunteer. After experiencing the healing power of adventure firsthand, Bryan was inspired to give back through a fundraiser. Over the past 3 years, Bryan has done a multi-step head shave to fundraise for various cancer-related organizations, including First Descents. We recently sat down with Bryan to hear more about this crazy, multi-step head shave. Read on below to hear his full story and see some of his epic hairstyles!

1) How did you first get involved with FD?

The short answer is that I just heard about FD through the paddling community.  Once I started paddling, I was hooked and I wanted to share my passion with anyone who showed an interest, whether they had cancer or not.  Hearing about FD and using paddling as a means for healing really inspired me.  I reached out to FD in the very early years to try and get a Canadian branch going but it was just too soon.  Fast forward a couple of years and FD’s organization and programming is more established.  I went on a winter paddling trip and FD Program Director Millissa (Smelly) Greenwood was my guide.  We talked a ton about FD that week and she said: if you want to get involved, just get involved.  “If you want to get a program going in Canada you should know first-hand what the program experience is all about.  Come and volunteer at a program in the US.”  I volunteered two years in a row in Montana and then we did finally manage to put on a program in Canada as well. 

2) What’s your program nickname?  How did you get your nickname? 

My program nickname is Cheese.  It was given to me by another volunteer.  I was the program photographer at my first program.  She said “This is what you want everyone to say as they paddle past you – your name is going to be Cheese.”  Perfect.

I had just started dating someone at the time of my first program.  The group decided that she would be called “Crackers” among us because Cheese goes well with Crackers.  It turns out they were right!  We’ve now been married for 11 years.  

3) What inspired you to shave your head?

This will be my third time shaving my head to raise money for young adult cancer-related organizations.  I was first inspired by one of the participants from the Canada program, Naomi Baker (Mimi) (may she rest in peace).  She was a diminutive person with an oversized personality.  She inspired a lot of people, myself included.  

I think through her I really understood the healing power of FD.  I had been promoting the Canada program and had met her at a screening of a documentary created by another FD alum: Mikey Lang (Klang) and I handed her a FD brochure.  When she turned up at the program she told me that the brochure had been pinned to her bulletin board as motivation for her to get well enough to come to FD.  She was having trouble eating as a result of her treatments and her doctors were recommending a feeding tube, which would have precluded her from coming on the program.  She used FD as motivation to re-learn how to eat.  That level of fortitude and determination is humbling.  When she said she was organizing a head shave a few months later, how could I say no?

I thought I was done with head shaves, but when COVID kicked in and barbers were closed I had too much hair and all the time in the world to figure out something fun to do with it.  My hair was only a bit long at that stage so the hairstyles were good but I think we’re up for bigger and better things this time.  I’ve been growing my hair out for just under 2 years so I’ve got plenty of length to play with.  Top styles/much hilarity to come!

4) What has been your favorite hairstyle so far?

My favourite hairstyle so far has to be the one where we dyed my hair blue and styled it into a wave and jammed a Playmobil kayak in there as if it was surfing the wave on my head.  I like it best for three reasons:

1. It was the most fun to create – we used a beer can to wrap my hair around to create the barrel of the wave and the styling was awesome, right down to using some silver spray-on hair dye to give the wave some whitewater.  Hats off to Crackers, without whom none of this would be possible.

2. It got the best reactions in public.  Since the COVID situation is a little more managed these days I’ve challenged myself to actually leave the building with these goofy hairstyles.  The day we did the kayak style coincided with a street festival in my neighbourhood.  I got so many genuine compliments/people stopping me in the street to talk about it.  Top fun.

3. It’s the one that most makes me think of FD, of course!  The paddling angle of the hairstyle is a great connection to the essence of why I’m doing all this.



Join the Out Living It Project

What is the Out Living It Project? The Out Living It Project is where community, creativity and philanthropy collide. By joining the Out Living It Project, you’ll join more than 500 FD fundraisers who are passionately extending the healing power of adventure to thousands of young adults (18-39) impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions. Choose your own adventure or join one of our feature Team FD events to start fundraising. Over 20% of our funding comes from the Out Living It Project. Head to firstdescents.org/out-living-it-project/ to learn more.

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