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Participant FAQ

We hope you are excited about your first FD experience!

We asked our participants what they were concerned about prior to their program – and what they learned.

Here are some answers and advice for you.

If you don’t find an answer to your question, we have a handful of participants who are excited to talk with you at any point. Email [email protected] with subject “Alum Buddy” and we will put you in touch with someone who can help answer your question.

FAQ's

Are COVID-19 vaccines required to attend a program?

Given the current rise in the Delta variant and First Descents' work with immunocompromised individuals and healthcare workers, FD strongly encourages all Parties (e.g. Participants, Staff, Visitors, and Volunteers) to obtain full vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. For the remainder of 2021, all Parties must submit proof of 1) full vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 or 2) submit proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of the individual’s departure to an FD program. This policy is effective immediately.

In 2022, all Parties will be required to submit proof of full vaccination against SARS-CoV-2. FD can make accommodations for individuals that can provide proof of exemption. Those individuals will be required to submit proof of a negative PCR test or NAAT test in the timeline outlined above.

Do I need insurance to attend my First Descents' program?

Yes. We do require all participants to verify their health insurance before attending a program with us.

*If you do not have insurance there are resources to support you:

Triage Cancer, a national, nonprofit organization that provides free education on the legal and practical issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, through events, materials, and resources.

Patient Advocacy Foundation provides direct services to patients with chronic, life threatening and debilitating diseases to help access care and treatment recommended by their doctor.

What should I do if I'm nervous/anxious about committing to a program with people I don't know, doing an activity/sport I've never done, in a place where I've never been before?

Everyone is nervous, everyone is wondering what to expect. This is a new experience on a lot of levels, but do it, it will change your life. The FD culture is all about compassion and kindness, they aren’t going to throw you into the river and hope it works. FD staff are professionals at their sport, but they will meet everyone at their individual level, even if the group comes with different levels of experience. Everything starts from scratch. Beyond that, this program is about you. The chefs/caterers will make your food, the staff and volunteer team will do the dishes, the outfitters will make you feel safe, your fellow participants will support you, and all you have to do is show up, be you, and have fun.

Will I be safe?

There is always a risk when adventuring outdoors. FD is committed to risk management and has policies and procedures in place to minimize and manage risk as much as possible. FD staff and Outfitters are experienced in the outdoors and group management, trained in their particular discipline, and 100% committed to your safety. No one will be forced to do anything they do not feel comfortable doing. Participant safety is FD's #1 priority. Additionally, on a majority of programs, there is a Medical Volunteer, who has at least an EMT certification and is there to provide general support and basic first aid if needed. If you're still concerned, please reach out to our Programs Team who will be happy to discuss this further with you.

What type of people am I going to meet?

People from all areas of the country, all walks of life. The people I met were some of the best people I've ever encountered in my life. They are like a 2nd family. Seriously, we are so close and we communicate with each other all the time. They are some of the first people I tell about my doctor visits and successes in my life.

Am I even able to do these sports? Is everyone going to be super fit and strong except me?

Yes, you will be able to do it, it all starts from scratch, baby steps, just like any new challenge. The outfitters will start with the basics and slowly move forward. We are also able to work with you and the outfitters to make adaptations so that you can crush it on your program!

Not everyone is going to be a superhero athlete. There are individuals of all fitness and athletic levels in every program. Participants are at a variety of levels of treatment and ability level (small, big, tall, short, healthy, not healthy). Many people are just finding their new bodies. No one expects wonders to happen. If you find that you absolutely cannot kayak, rock climb, or surf, the staff will do everything possible to help you still have the best experience you can!

Start by checking out our Adaptability Guide (firstdescents.org/program-adaptability-guide/) and reach out to [email protected] so that we can find the best program for you

Do I have to talk about my feelings?

No way- this is totally up to you.

How many programs am I eligible for?

Our goal is to have you embrace outdoor adventure and supportive relationships as part of your healing. Due to overwhelming interest in FD programs and the current operating environment, we can guarantee one free-of-cost program per Participant. If you have already benefited from a FD program, please help us extend the healing power of adventure to another community member. Community members can continue to adventure with their peers through the Out Living It Project.

I get this pack sheet and I can't even figure out what some of the items are let alone afford to buy it. Treatments are expensive. I am embarrassed to say that I can't afford to buy most of what is on there. Maybe I shouldn't go.

You do not need to buy all of the stuff on the list- most folks won’t have all of it. The guiding companies will provide it. The packing list is a suggestion. If you can just match up the best you can to what you have in your closet, that is all you need. Headquarters staff can help you figure it out. No one needs to know.

Are we going to spend a lot of time talking about our health conditions?

That is up to you, but it does come up casually. Sometimes we talk about our experiences, treatments, and the impact on our family and friends, etc. We all have an unwritten common bond, and many times things just go unsaid but are understood. That’s because there is a common understanding and knowing because we have all been through a similar experience. We spend much of our time just getting to know each other and really enjoying the challenge and new experience on so many levels. When you are around people that have gone through a similar lived experience, you naturally feel open. your guard just drops. For once, you aren’t "the friend that had/has cancer or the family member with cancer. We are just ourselves and there is a lot of freedom in that.

Is it OK to ask people what type of cancer or other serious health condition they have/had?

Definitely. This usually happens very quickly on the first day.

Will people think something is wrong with me?

One of the biggest questions I had was this crazy idea that I was the only one dealing with major depression and an overall feeling of being stuck and lost.  What I found (other than confirming I was crazy in a good way) was that I wasn’t alone – there were tons of other people in very similar situations dealing with exactly the same issues as I was… and this was after I’d spent a year and a half convincing myself that I must be the only one dealing with this.

Will I be able to "unplug" from my life (e.g. technology, work stress, family stress)?

Yes! As a matter of fact, we encourage that. Please leave your technology (e.g. phones and computers) at home or if you need to bring them, leave them in your lodge room. This is a special opportunity to unplug and recharge. You will meet amazing people and be in an amazing place so you’ll want to soak up every minute of it because it’s going to come and go fast and your phones and computers will be there waiting for you on the other end.

What should I expect at programs for food/meals?

Eating and sharing healthy meals is a cornerstone of FD programs. Our goal is to educate and to inspire healthy eating to improve health outcomes. On programs, professionally trained chefs prepare healthy meals, focused on fresh whole foods so that everyone is nourished, energized and able to make the most of their program experience and beyond. This is an opportunity for them to consume a nutrient-rich diet prepared by trained professionals and to observe how this affects their bodies.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most food at programs will be provided by local catering companies.

However, you can learn more about FD’s stance on nutrition at firstdescents.org/programs/program-nutrition/.

Is alcohol allowed at these programs?

We feel that these experiences are fun enough without the need for additional substances and as such FD programs are drug/alcohol free.

May I bring friends and family to join me on my program?

Our programs are designed to inspire and challenge. For the majority of our participants, that starts with leaving their typical support system at home. We encourage you to attend a FD program on your own. Given the nature of some of our programs (e.g. Healthcare Worker programs), some folks attend with a colleague or family member in the same respective field. That’s fine in these one-off circumstances. However, generally we encourage you to try this out on our own. It helps create a space for connection and from our experience, it means a more impactful program experience for you.

May I bring my pet to a program?

Pets are not allowed at our programs. This includes the use of Emotional Support Animals - the ONLY exception are Guide Dogs (seeing eye dogs) for blind participants. This situation must have been pre-arranged with the Programs team.