An adventurer at heart, traveling the world and going places seldom seen is what drives me. Whether I’m sitting in the seat of a kayak, in a harness on a big wall, or off on some stretch of deserted beach surfing, my love of the outdoors in only surpassed by the love I have for my 2 boys. Most days you can find me in an eddy paddling a beautiful stretch of river with my mates. Capturing those moments with my camera makes it come alive later. I’m a kayak athlete and lover of the outdoors. I feel super lucky and priveledge to live this life.
I was lucky enough to grow up rafting the spectacular desert canyons of southern Utah, and eventually followed the call of the river (and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science) to the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I’ve been traveling, adventuring, and teaching kayaking around the western U.S. (and the world, when I can swing it!) I found First Descents back in 2011 as a safety kayaker in Glacier, Montana, and can’t believe I’m lucky enough to work as part of the Lead Staff team now! I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for finding healing and community than the river, rock, or ocean.
I’m also lucky enough to call the playground that is White Salmon, Washington my home, and spend most of my time there playing outside, lending a hand with environmental education in local schools, and figuring out how I can spend more time playing outside.
I discovered the river when I was about 13 all thanks to my adventurous Mama and her great love of water. In the beginning, we thought she was nuts! Shortly thereafter though…the whole family was racing off to the southeast and up to Canada from our home in southwest Michigan as frequently as possible. Kayaking stole my heart immediately and the roots of the sport, for me, are deeply enrobed in the essence of family and community. I have been lucky to paddle many rivers in distant places and this beautiful sport never fails to offer familiarity in the most unfamiliar of places. I guess it’s no surprise that when I found FD in 2013…I felt immediately at home on and off the water. I have been given many gifts from the various currents I have been able to explore and there is no greater beauty than to get to share that. I now reside in Missoula, MT with my best buddy Lager (big yellow dog)!
A native from the panhandle of Northern Idaho, Paco grew up learning to love the beauty and natural healing powers that nature provides for those who embrace it. After Paco’s first whitewater rafting trip down the Lochsa River and graduating with a degree in Outdoor Leadership and Recreation she knew instantly that her passions for the outdoors had met her career. Since then she has been checking off rivers around the country (and world, when she’s lucky). Currently living in Colorful Colorado, adventuring, skiing and mt. biking all over the west is where Paco will most likely be found enjoying nature. And during the summer she is working, or more, playing in the Southwest deserts of Utah with The Colorado Outward Bound School as a Course Director and Lead Instructor. Paco found her connection with First Descents in 2015 and immediately knew it aligned with her calling to teach and share the great outdoors with others, she was hooked for life!
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 🙂
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.
Aloha! I am a life-long Californian, and the ocean has always been my home. I live in Santa Cruz with my four-legged sidekick “Big”. We play, eat, camp, surf, groove, paddle, mountain bike, and chase a hell of a lot of Frisbees on the beach.
My professional field includes public health, safety, and education, but my true passions are playing outdoors, breathing the air, and encouraging others to experience the wonder, and healing power, of nature.
Fate led me to First Descents in 2008, and after ten years of volunteering as medical staff, I am honored to become a member of the very talented lead staff. I am looking forward to leaning in for the laughs, the love, and spreading the “FD magic” with this amazing community of inspiring individuals.
In 2009, Mia “Veggetti” Lewis enrolled in a local culinary school, but soon realized she was looking for so much more than learning the basics of food preparation and cooking. Mia wanted to learn the healing properties of food. The Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) in New York City held the answers to the many questions. And so began Mia’s culinary journey.
Upon graduation from NGI, Mia completed her internship in Berkeley, CA at the Three Stone Hearth, a unique model for community-scale food preparation and processing. Soon after, she was hired as a Chef for First Descents. Mia never imagined that being a chef could give her the opportunities and experiences as it has. Cooking for FD connected her with a world outside of herself. Since 2013, Veggetti has worked nearly 40 programs as a Lead Chef and for the 2018 season will step into the roll as the First Descents Chef Manager. When Veggetti is not traveling with FD, she works as a private health-supportive chef in Delaware.
For Veggetti, cooking comes from a place of peace, a place where her spirit and love of healing and creativity come together to provide healthy and delicious meals for others.
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.
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.
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)
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!
The outdoors are my home. I feel more at home wondering in the woods than I do walking down a city street. While sports such as biking, skiing, climbing, surfing, etc. are my modes of fun in the outdoors and gravity is my buddy, just walking in the forest can reset my happy button. I grew up at the foot of Mt Shasta and now live in Durango Colorado with my husband and my two sons. I’m looking forward to interacting, discovering, exploring and challenging myself in the outdoors with First Descents and its family. Forgive me now if I point out forest fairies in the middle of crazy hard climb, foam mermaids in the middle of a wave while surfing or just stop to look at the lines in the river for a moment. Also, a little piece of insider info: I’m afraid of heights while climbing and big waves when surfing. With that said, the outdoors and adventure are a big part of my life and I can’t wait to share that with FD peeps!
I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains and I have been fortunate to call Colorado my home for over 28 years. As I was growing up, I rarely missed an opportunity to try any new activity on the mountain or in the water. Whether backpacking in the deep wilderness, snowboarding the high alpine slopes, or scaling 14,000-foot peaks, my love for the great outdoors continues to grow stronger by the day. This passion became intertwined with my love for First Descents after I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 24. Since attending my first program with FD in 2014, I have tried to selflessly serve other young adults impacted by cancer and share revel in the natural beauty of the world with them. Today you can still find me exploring various mountains, rivers, lakes, and beaches around the country where I’ll be hiking, kayaking, snowboarding, or climbing my way through the wilderness trying to fill my heart with the peace and joyfulness that only nature can provide. I currently live in Centennial, Colorado where I also work part-time at a brewery while I pursue a career in aviation and spend time Out Living It with my FD family!
I was born and raised in Massachusetts but moved to North Carolina for college. After graduating with a degree in Outdoor Recreation I found work with the military running their outdoor adventure department, taking military members and their families out on day, weekend, and multi-day trips rock climbing, hiking, skiing, paddling, etc. I was fortunate enough to be mobile with my work, living and working in Colorado, California, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Germany. Spending so much time with the military, inevitably you meet some great people and thus I met my wife while teaching her to surf in California, and we are now career military.
I found First Descents in 2012 after working for a program taking disabled veterans whitewater kayaking. I have been with them ever since with the exception of the few years living in Germany. I love the mission of high adventure and pushing beyond what one thinks they are capable of, regardless of their physical and mental state, diagnosis, or life situation. Our participants that I get to meet become fast friends, and inspire and rejuvenate me each year to live life to the fullest.
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.
Hey there! My birth name is Kenji but I’d like to talk to you a little bit about Rufio. He’s the one you’ll probably end up meeting at a First Descents program some day. So… yeah, Rufio is a Lost Boy in Neverland. No, really! Have you ever seen the movie “Hook”? He also almost landed the camp name “Mr. Miyagi” which refers to the wise sage from “The Karate Kid.” Basically any Asian archetype from 80’s and 90’s Hollywood cinema seemed to fit. And what started out as an exaggerated stereotype has actually become the embodiment of his persona. I believe his dating profile once read: “At times an adventurous child that never wants to grow up… and at others, an elderly sensei that speaks in metaphors.” This feels true. In the same manner that our cyclical lifeline mirrors the seasonal shifts, Rufio constantly evolves from child, to adolescent, to adult, to elder, through death and rebirth, back into infancy all over again. He also gets to dance with the changing seasons of the Pacific Northwest, intimately moved by the rock, river, and surf. It’s in this way that he’s found deep connection, to people and to nature. He also loves chocolate chip cookies. Let’s go play outside!!!
Hardcor (sure, her nickname is a direct reflection of her personality and adventure-seeking spirit, but mostly just a play on words because her last name is Cor) grew up in the oft denigrated state of Florida. She has found her true home in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys backpacking, rock climbing, camping, and plain ol’ being outside with her family. Connecting with First Descents in 2015 as a participant and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor was truly a life-changing and humbling experience for her. Since that time, Hardcor has been Out Living It every day as a camp mom and now as lead staff. She is constantly looking to be present in whatever circumstances she finds herself in, from 2 a.m. campfire chats to hanging from rock faces 1,200 feet in the air. However, spending time with future FD participants will always be her favorite way to live and love.
Originally from Auburn, AL, Clara moved to Denver, CO to persue a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Nutrition. She began her journey with First Descents through an internship collaboration with Johnson & Wales University. This unique opportunity to share her passion for cooking and nutrition in beautiful outdoor settings with an incredible culture of people has influenced the trajectory of her career.
Since 2013 Clara has contributed to over 30 week long programs and helped to shape the nutrition program for First Descents. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Nutrition Science, as well as a dietetic internship, through Samford University in Birmingham, AL.
Julia (aka Nomad) believes in the deliciousness and powers of eating real, whole foods: simple, balanced dishes and flavors, all with a nutritional punch. She has been cooking with First Descents since 2015.
Upon being prescribed a restricted diet, Julia hesitantly embraced the change, and began experimenting in her Brooklyn apartment. She soon realized it wasn’t impossible to eat well within the given restraints. Inspired to help others redefine their relationships with food, Julia focused on creating nourishing, feel-good meals for individuals with varying health hurdles.
A departure from the photo world, and subsequent training and certification from The Natural Gourmet Institute in 2012, led Julia to a variety of NYC’s health-focused, plant-based kitchens. Not long after, Julia was tasked with the creation of the opening menu and kitchen management of Philadelphia’s first organic, plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free eatery.
Love of travel and a desire for new experiences moved Julia to California, where she first discovered the beauty that is FD. She has continued to expand her cooking repertoire while working as a Health-Supportive Private Chef, and is super grateful for the opportunity to share her passion with all of the friendly faces of FD.
Big City is a chef and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. Although she is a city girl, she loves being outdoors and takes up any opportunity to hike in the mountains or be on the river. While cooking for First Descents you can frequently find her exchanging recipes with participants, singing and dancing in the kitchen or riding down rapids in the big rubber ducky.
In culinary school, I learned how to prepare food to help people feel their best. I especially love cooking with First Descents because they bring my favorite ingredients to the table: community, adventure, and fun. It’s also the few times a year I get to escape NYC and live out my outdoorsy alter-ego dreams. Good food, enjoyed with great company, surrounded by mountains, trees, and fresh air, what could be better?
After a life altering illness left Rachel wheelchair bound for two years in her early 20s, she decided to live “out living it” long before she knew what that was. Having always had a passion for sharing love and community through food, Rachel embarked on a journey to a nutritionally based culinary school in Denver, Colorado in 2013. The Universe knew exactly what it was doing… Having called her own health challenges her darkest hour and her biggest blessing, the entire mission of First Descents immediately resonated in Rachel‘s heart.
2013 was her first program and she has never looked back- working as a lead chef for First Descents on locations across the country. Aside from being a certified natural foods chef and licensed massage therapist specializing in clinical movement, Rachel is an avid outdoors woman. She raises and trains upland game hunting dogs and can be found cooking and guiding hunts in rural South Dakota in the fall. Her passion truly lies in giving back to “special population“ young adults that are so dear to her heart.
For Rachel, or “Wizard” as she is known among the First Descents community, food is love. Food is that “holiday at grandmas”, loved up from the inside emotion. Food is indulgence and healing. Her mission is to share love, indulgence, and deliciousness in a way that facilitates healing to body and soul.