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Alumni Advisory Board

Meghan “Carnage” Kearney

Meghan was never the lifelong outdoor enthusiast like many in our First Descents family. In 2008, a year after her breast cancer diagnosis, both her friend and her brother peer-pressured her into participating in her first FD camp. Apprehensively, she drove 7 hours up into Northern California for the first and only FD Otter Bar Kayaking Camp and spent a week with Daril, Daryl, and 15 other amazing campers and volunteers. As you can probably imagine, her life was forever changed. Fast forward 5 years and Carnage has (without any prompting) participated in a total of 5 FD camps: kayaking in CA and WA, surfing in Santa Barbara, and two FDX Trips: Main Salmon, ID and Peru! In addition, in 2012, she fell in love with the concept of the FDi while working as an FD AmBadAssador – kayaking and surfing with new FD recruits who, within one short weekend, became FD family members.

Outside of FD, Carnage lives in San Francisco and alternates her mornings between the beach and Crossfit. For the past 10 years, she has spent her days working with at-risk youth as a social worker. Her experiences with FD have helped change the way she thinks about working with youth; she has learned firsthand the power in reclaiming your life through physical challenges. She is now working with friends to start an after-school program for at-risk youth that involves physical challenges as a way to reduce recidivism within the juvenile justice system.

Susan “Hawk” Rafferty

Susan was born and raised in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Susan attended Colorado State University and fell in love with all that Colorado has to offer, so she is happy to call Denver home. She is an avid roller hockey player, lover of traveling and the outdoors, and a champion for rescue dogs (she has fostered dozens and is mom to two Great Danes). After being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer and completing treatment, Susan attended her first FD Rock Climbing Camp in Estes Park, CO in the fall of 2010. In the summer of 2011, she attended an FD 2 kayak camp in Kalispell, MT, where she fell in love with kayaking. In the summer of 2012, she attended her first FDX camp, a week kayaking the Salmon River in Idaho ,and she can’t wait to get back on the river again in 2013. According to Susan, “First Descents has been life changing. Cancer took away my strength, confidence and my health. First Descents gave all of that back to me and much, much more. I now have an amazing community of friends whom I consider family who provide invaluable support, and a newfound love of kayaking”.

Craig “Mountie” Stein

Hailing from Montreal, Canada, Craig has been a lifelong athlete (hockey, skiing, tennis, etc) and outdoor adventurer. Favorite trips so far have included cycling the Pacific Coast, backcountry skiing in Utah, and of course whitewater kayaking (Washington) as well as surfing (California) with First Descents! Craig used to write for the Discovery Channel, but then got an MBA and has been working in marketing ever since. He is currently the Director of Marketing for a company in the Customer Experience Management space. A colo-rectal cancer survivor, Craig is also very active in the young adult cancer space having spoken at conferences, developed a cancer resource website, been published in the Huffington Post, interviewed on public radio, and will be featured in the Colon Club’s upcoming Colondar. Craig is super stoked to be part of the Alumni Advisory Board, and believes First Descents is the absolute bomb!

David “PODO” Podein

David  is currently an associate attorney with David B. Haber, P.A. in Miami, Florida, where he specializes his practice on business, real estate and construction law. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, David serves on the Board of the Always Keep Pedaling Foundation and as a volunteer mentor with Imerman Angels.  Diagnosed in 2007 while attending law school, David recently celebrated his fifth year cancer free.  David holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. In addition to biking, watching Michigan Football, and collecting retro Air Jordan sneakers, David spends his free time working on a spoken word biography of Corey “Daryl” Nielsen.

David first became involved with First Descents as a camper in 2008 at the California Otter Bar camp, and recently completed a FDX mountaineering adventure in Alaska. David is very passionate about First Descents and supporting the young adult cancer community.

Christina “Braveheart” Dixon

Braveheart (aka Christina Dixon) was 23 when she found out she had cancer, and she attended her first FD kayaking camp in August 2010. FD completely changed the way she approached cancer challenges, and challenges in general. Over the past three years, Braveheart has been learning to kayak, surf, climb, and mountaineer because of the First Descents family. Being a part of FD has meant the world to Braveheart, and she wants as many young adults as possible to experience firsthand the same FD love, inspiration, attitude toward adventure, and encouragement to take on challenges that has forever changed her life.Braveheart grew up in North Carolina and is a 2008 graduate of Washington and Lee University. After working in the world of finance for four years, Braveheart is currently a 2015 MBA candidate in the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University***.

Nate “Scooter” Post

Nate first found FD in 2011 after spending two years fighting Advanced Stage 4 cancer at 22 years old.  Hailing from Santa Fe, New Mexico, he currently resides in Orlando.  As a travel enthusiast ‘home’ changes quite often – taking up residence in places from Argentina to Maui, Denver to Houston to name a few. He is passionate about helping people live with more intentionally – and loves to regularly force himself out of his comfort zone to embody that philosophy.   You can usually find him outside – a few hobbies include: surfing, skydiving, triathlons and wakeboarding.

Along the way, he picked up a BS in Hospitality and Finance from University of Houston as well as an MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins.  His professional life involves running an engineering firm that builds next-gen infrared technology for the Department of Defense.

Since the beginning, Nate fell head first (or flipped upside down) into the incredible FD family and loves to get more people involved.  He has been fortunate to attend a kayaking program in Vail, a climbing program in New York, an FDX kayak program on the Main Salmon and Tarkio.  He’s excited about volunteering at as many programs as possible to see the FD Magic help so many more cancer fighters – just like it helped him.

Lisa “Wombat” Butch

Lisa Butch, aka Wombat (or Motp if you know her from way back at her first camp), was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in December 2006.  Expecting nothing but a fun trip after a tough year of treatment, Wombat found more than she ever dreamed possible with First Descents.  Feeling whole again while attending FD camps, Wombat became addicted and has attended whitewater kayaking camps in Colorado, Montana, Washington, and a FDX on the Salmon River, as well as a mountaineering FDX in Alaska and a surfing FDX in Bali.  FD also helped Wombat discover that she is happiest living outdoors which led to her attending a Leadership Semester course with Outward Bound Costa Rica and her current position taking at-risk youth on wilderness canoe trips in Florida with North Carolina Outward Bound.

Wombat is from Ohio and received a B.S. in Environmental Science from Allegheny College and a M.A. in Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island.  Wombat is beyond stoked to be a part of the FD Alumni Advisory Board and help other young adults learn how to go from cancer to Out Living It!

Tom “Broccoli Landers” Whiteside

Broccoli is, by day, a traveling moustache salesman with Movember, by night, a former world-champion broccoli eater and general  broccoli enthusiast. You are what you eat, after all.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin Broccoli spent a year abroad teaching English. After repatriating, a stint in e*learning was derailed by a diagnosis of stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Returning home to the flatlands of Lubbock, TX Broccoli underwent five months of high-dose chemotherapy, followed by a month of radiation. Since then he has been on a quest to help cancer fighters and survivors the world over. From Planet Cancer to LIVESTRONG to Movember, Broccoli has had the great privilege of working at some of the finest non-profits serving those affected by cancer. He is excited to join the Alumni Advisory Board at First Descents after attending FD1 in the OBX in 2014 and FDX in Iceland in 2015.

 

Natalie “Maverick” Conforti

In 2008 I carpooled up to the Forks of Salmon River on the one-year-anniversary of a mastectomy. Upon hearing about First Descents all I had expected was a cancer camp at which I would get to spend some time outdoors, meet one or two survivors I could relate with, and maybe enjoy a camp fire.  FD provided that, plus the rush of actually learning how to kayak, and making a whole set of friends for life, in the campers, staff, and instructors.

In the midst of graduating from an industrial design program I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my third cancer diagnosis in twenty-eight years.  I hadn’t been on any sort of week-long vacation in over ten years.  At Otter Bar I was able to spend the week with a secondary cancer survivor, and chat with him about what the stress of more than one cancer diagnoses meant for him while we were in our kayaks on the water.  Upon returning from that camp, everyone in San Francisco commented on a noticeable difference in my demeanor: my perseverance had returned, and so had my sense of humor.  There was a willingness to live that had managed to escape when I had faced cancer not once, not twice, but three times in my twenty-nine years.

I returned to camp the following two summers.  Each camp was individually amazing in its own way with some campers I recognized from previous camps, and a bevy of new friends to be made in the midst of meals, campfires, and kayaking.  The stories, vistas, and natural beauty were gazed at in the midst of developing my own cancer story, which was already fifteen years old. I have had the good fortune of attending an FDX experience in Costa Rica.  When I signed up for that camp, I knew that my FD travels would not only be worth far more than any expenses I incurred, I would then be able to repay my good fortunes to those I met beyond camp, which is the real magic of First Descents.

 

Conor “Prez” Hall

Conor, a.k.a. Prez, hails from the mountains of Southwestern Colorado. He attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana where he served as the Co-President of the Student body and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Political Science. He worked as a fundraiser in the 2008 election cycle, and has experience in community outreach and comparative climate policy. After a year and a half of traveling and working around the world on every continent except Antarctica and Australia, Conor returned to Colorado to to join Governor Hickenlooper’s Office of Community Partnerships as a Program Coordinator, working to support Colorado’s most vulnerable citizens. Recently, Conor took on the role of Manager of Special Initiatives for the Governor’s Office of Community Partnerships , taking on an increased role in representing the Governor and Lt. Governor at events around the state and managing a diverse portfolio of projects including the Governor’s Clergy Council, the Governor’s Executive Internship Program, and important pieces of the 100 million dollar Colorado Pedals Project.

Conor was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 21 and had the opportunity to complete his FD1 at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ever since that experience, FD has been an important part of his life. Conor is active within the young cancer community serving as a mentor to other young people fighting cancer and excited and honored to serve as a member of the FD Alumni Advisory  Board. He also, serves as a mentor to 4 underserved youth from the Denver Metro Area, through the youth leadership development non-profit SOS Outreach. He lives in Downtown Denver and loves to escape to the mountains to snowboard, hike, mountain bike, rock climb, and kayak. He also spends his free time contemplating how he will turn Podo’s spoken word biography of Corey “Daryl” Nielsen, into an explosion filled blockbuster.

Andy “X2C” Fleming – Board Chairman

Andy is a high school counselor in Western New York where he gets to share in many wonderful lives during an exciting developmental stage where kids are becoming young adult and finding their voice in the world.  He volunteers as an Alpine and Nordic National Ski Patroller and he is often found sliding down and up slopes deep in snow.

He earned a B.A from Hamilton College, a M.S.Ed. from SUNY Brockport and in the middle he dropped out of Emory University Law School after his first year when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and decided to follow a different path in life.  His mother passed from pancreatic cancer, his godmother passed from breast cancer and his father is a prostate cancer survivor.

Andy loves everything FD from his first Kayaking Camp in Vail, CO, to his second camp Kayaking in Whitefish, MT, FDXing on the Main Salmon, assisting at three kayaking camps in Vail and FDi rock climbing in New Paltz, NY, and glacial travel during FDX Denali, AK.  He claims his blue dot radiation tattoos spell FD when he connects the dots.  When not going on FD adventures he dreams of getting more young adult cancer survivors to experience FD’s life affirming camps and really getting them out there living it.

Alix “Snooki” Berglund

Alix was born and raised in New Jersey and received a B.A. from Dartmouth College before moving to Colorado where she has spent the entirety of her adult life.  She worked in the non-profit sector before receiving her MBA from the University of Colorado and pursuing a career in the field of finance.  Alix currently works with her husband, an architect, as the Business Manager for the firm that he owns.  She also recently received her Master’s in Holistic Nutrition and looks forward to starting a practice where she can educate others about the incredible healing power of food and help guide them in their journey to optimal health.

Alix first became sick and had her first lung surgery at the age of 15.  As a teenager she struggled with not letting her illness define her life and/or her limitations going forward.  A year and a half later however, she went on a three week long backpacking and rock climbing trip with Outward Bound in Montana, a trip that she says was one of the most pivotal moments of her life.  Those three weeks she says allowed her to move beyond her illness and reclaim her life.  Upon realizing that Outward Bound had been her “First Descent” and that this organization’s aim was to replicate that experience for countless others like herself, she asked Allen on the spot how she could get involved and has volunteered for First Descents ever since.  She ultimately attended a camp herself in Moab, UT in 2011.

Alix resides in the mountains of Colorado with her husband and two golden retrievers.  Together they enjoy hiking, biking, backcountry skiing, camping and just about all aspects of the wondrous outdoors.

 

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