Ryan (aka, “Wolf”) has a unique blend of for-profit, non-profit and direct experience with the young adult cancer community. After losing his brother, Colin, to cancer as a young adult, Ryan founded Rise Above It (RAI), an organization committed to advancing the field of adolescent and young adult oncology (AYAO). He was originally introduced to First Descents (FD) through his work at RAI and in collaboration with the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance.
Prior to joining FD, Ryan worked at the LIVESTRONG Foundation where hesupported individual major gifts, foundation grants, corporate engagement, and also managed the Young Leaders Cancer Council (YLCC).
In his early career, Ryan worked in Accenture’s Strategy Practice where he managed Fortune 500 client accounts across several industries. Ryan holds B.S.B.A. in Finance & Technology Management from Georgetown University, where he was captain of the football team and an Academic All-American in 2000.
Mackenzie McGrath joins First Descents with more than a decade of experience designing and managing healing programs around the world as an aid worker, US diplomat and non-profit consultant in Asia, Africa, North America and the Middle East. In 2014, Mackenzie started her own consulting company and also starting working as part time climbing instructor. Mackenzie has a graduate degree in International Studies and a Master’s level Certificate from Harvard University in Global Mental Health. This cause is deeply personal, having lost her brother – Taurin – to cancer as a young adult. Mackenzie is excited to be part of the FD team, and looks forward to combining her passion for the outdoors and her dedication to building high-impact healing programs for young adults with cancer.
Ray Shedd joins First Descents with an extensive background in nonprofit development, partnership activation, and brand storytelling. Previously, Ray was Director of Partnerships and Marketing at Positive Tracks, where he was responsible for the design and implementation of the organization’s fundraising and marketing efforts. A big believer in adventure and recreation-based healing, Ray was also Senior Development Officer at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (THITWGC). During his 9 years with THITWGC, he built a robust corporate partners program and helped diversify the organization’s endurance and peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising platform. He also led on key foundation and major gift accounts designed to support Camp’s rapidly growing programs for children coping with cancer and other serious illnesses. Ray holds degrees in History and Sociology from the University of Connecticut and a Masters in Organizational Leadership and Nonprofit Management from Quinnipiac University. When not serving the mission of First Descents, Ray can be found playing in the mountains with his golden retriever, Sundance.
Me in 140 Characters or Less: Avid adventurer and philanthropy nerd; Plays outside as much as possible; Believes in the power of love and coffee.
Becca (aka Turtle) hails from Asheville, North Carolina (the East Coast Denver). After graduating from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she moved to the nation’s capitol for a short stint where she worked in marketing for an environmental non-profit.
Becca moved to Denver to get back to adventuring in the mountains, rivers and sunshine and is thrilled to work for an organization that is connecting folks to the outdoors and empowering people to live beyond their diagnosis!
Adam comes from a tiny Chicago suburb – Sleepy Hollow, IL. After graduating from the University of Dayton in 2007, he spent a year in Malawi managing the finances for a trade school in the northern part of the country. Upon returning to the States, he spent over five years working in the private sector for one of the world’s largest shipping container logistics providers and outdoor retail giant REI. Most recently, Adam spent some time back in East Africa in Uganda managing a chlorine dispenser project within the country.
Adam has served as a board member for the University of Dayton Alumni Association and the Secret Agents of Change, as well as the young professional board at Project C.U.R.E., and is thrilled to be a part of the ever-growing FD Community.
Willie (aka Sweet D) was raised in northern New England and beyond as a skier, a boater, a biker, and ultimately a lover of all things wild. He is a self-proclaimed river runner respected by generations of paddlers who is also recognized internationally as a voice of conservation, communication and safety on the river.
Over the last two and a half decades, he has assembled a portfolio of kayak descents from the Americas to Asia and often on first descents of the worlds most technically and logistically challenging runs. For some, most notably he was a member of the expedition that became the first to run the legendary “Upper Gorges” of the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo.
In addition to becoming one of the foremost expedition paddlers, Willie has also worked developing eco-tourism and guide training programs in Asia for over a decade. He has worked on both sides of the lens for several adventure documentaries. And throughout, he has taught and coached with a host of accredited experiential, alternative and outdoor educational programs. Willie speaks publicly in favor of the protection of cultural and natural heritage and he has guided on and around rivers for as long as he can remember.
Brooke (aka “Noodles”) was raised in Illinois- the stomping grounds of Abraham Lincoln and Kanye West. The loved for the outdoors brought Brooke to Colorado where she studied Environmental Studies and Geography at CU-Boulder. After graduation, she had the opportunity to backpack through Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand where Brooke tried any and all cuisines (grasshopper, anyone?).
The mountains continued to call her name, so she made her way back to Colorado and has called this great state home ever since. Brooke is beyond excited to be a part of the First Descents family, and stoked to follow her passion in adventure-based healing for young adult cancer fighters and survivors!
Originating from Dedham, MA, Anna “06” Kenyon grew up adventuring in the Northeast, and graduated from Middlebury College in Spring of 2016. After a few months of post-grad travel, she packed up and drove west.
As an avid outdoorswoman and Art History major, she joins the marketing team at FD to combine her love of design and the outdoors. She’s thrilled to join First Descents and provide more opportunities for young adults impacted by cancer to get out livin’ it!
Tops is from the bustling metropolis of Weatherford, TX – located 20 miles west of Fort Worth, near the edge of civilization. He attended The University of Texas at Austin where he majored in Kinesiology. After his freshman year he witnessed the last two weeks of his grandfather’s struggle with liver cancer. This became the reason he joined Texas 4000 where he served as the 2016 Rockies Ride Director & led the zaniest team of 20 riders on their bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK in order to raise money for cancer research. Through that experience he interacted with First Descents and immediately knew he wanted to be apart of the FD family!
Kate (aka Lil’ Mo) hails from Phoenix, the land of haboobs, strong AC, and endless Saguaros. Continuing her life as a desert rat, she attended the University of Arizona to study psychology and explore the glorious mountains surrounding Tucson. Taking a break from the seriousness of school, she moved to Denver (a place where she could actually experience seasons) and spent the next part couple years working in the outdoor industry in an array of positions: rock wall driver, instructor, cyclist intern, customer service representative, and (somehow) accounting assistant.
Although she tried to leave Colorado in 2018 when embarking on 6 months of bike touring, her legs inevitably got tired and she couldn’t help but get pulled back to the place that stole her heart. She was fortunate enough to join the First Descents team in 2019, and looks forward to working with the Programs Team to continue to bring the FD mission to more young adults!
Kristin McMaster (aka “Tortuga”) joins FD from California as our Mental Health Resource Specialist. Kristin volunteered for FD back in 2011 while working as a Young Adult Oncology Social Worker and it was an experience that left a permanent mark on her heart. She has an unwavering belief in the strength of the wilderness to heal and help empower people facing challenges like a cancer diagnosis. Kristin received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Southern California with a concentration in Health and following the completion of her MSW program, she was recruited to build an AYAO psychosocial support program at UC Irvine’s Cancer Center. She is incredibly passionate about working with this population and is very excited to support our efforts here at FD in her new role. When she is not wearing her counselor’s hat you can find Kristin out in the ocean on her surfboard or roaming the beautiful trails of California!
Emma hails from Salt Lake City, Utah where she grew up skiing in the Wasatch mountains and camping in the deserts of Southern Utah. Dreams of Douglas Firs and maple bacon donuts soon brought her to Portland, Oregon where she attended the University of Portland. Upon graduating, Emma joined a small nonprofit and escaped the city to become a river guide on the Rogue and Lower Salmon Rivers. One summer of sun salutes later and her passion to bring adventure to those in need was born. In search of the Last Best Place, Emma joined a nonprofit in Bozeman, Montana where she dived deeper into the world of fundraising and mastered the art of exploring in bear country. Thrilled to continue her quest of the West in Denver, Emma is excited to join FD and bring the healing power of adventure and community to as many young adults as possible!
Sophie (aka “Bubbles”) was born and raised in a quintessential New England town (think Gilmore Girls) and spent her summers going to camp in Colorado. Her love for the outdoors and Colorado lead her to Colorado College where she studied sociology and global health. After college, she spent a year in the magical kingdom of Bhutan, aka “land of the thunder dragon” coordinating student life for a study abroad program.
After Bhutan, Sophie made her way back to Colorado and spent the past 4 years working for Girls on the Run, a non-profit working to empower girls ages 8-14. She is super excited to join the programs team at FD, and can’t wait to provide outdoor adventures for as many young adults as possible!
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.
Angelina (aka “Katniss”) grew up on a farm in Western Massachusetts where she developed a passion for the outdoors. After her own cancer diagnosis, she attended a First Descents rock climbing program and experienced firsthand the healing power of adventure. From then on, Katniss made it her mission to connect people to the environment.
She worked as Environmental Education Program Assistant at FWS in Fairbanks, AK. After exploring Alaska, Katniss went on to work as Farm-to-School Coordinator for Mālama Kaua’i, a non profit working for sustainability across Kaua’i. Katniss then decided to venture back to the mainland to join the FD family as Program Coordinator!
Barry spent his youth practicing the dog-o-lin under the tutelage of renowned dog-violinist Chester P Barkington. His dream was to one day attend Juilliard as the first Canine pupil. He practiced until his little paws were raw. When it came time for his audition to the famed school he was nervous. So nervous, in fact, that as he played his first note, he indiscreetly and unfortunately let out a little poo as well. The judges were not impressed. Forlorn after his fall from the spotlight, Barry wandered the streets of Houston living off the land and wallowing in his self pity. There he would have stayed if it were not for his best friend Toby, who was there to rescue him both physically and mentally. Toby taught him that it was okay to poop, everybody poops. Barry now spends most of his days pooping in hallways, parking garages, and cars – proud of his accomplishments and unashamed of his past. We salute how far Barry has come. Poop on young Barry, Poop on.