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.
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. Previously, 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.
Chris Dolan joins First Descents with an extensive background in marketing, brand partnerships, experiential activation and event production. He has held senior positions with brands, agencies and properties. Chris brings over 20 years of experience championing integrated teams, leading strategy, developing programming,
managing partnerships with many of today’s leading brands and properties including Jeep, Kellogg’s, MillerCoors, Vail Resorts, NFL, NASCAR and Live Nation.
Originally from Connecticut, Chris made his way to Colorado for college and never looked back. He attended Regis University where he earned his degree in Business Communications and Sports Marketing.
If he is not skiing down a mountain, you can find him adventuring somewhere outdoors with his wife (Carrie), daughter (Taylor) and two dogs (Teddy & Moose).
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Mike kicked off his career working at big name tech companies. But while volunteering as a snowboard guide with Burton Chill and Discovery Blind Sports in his free time, Mike saw the incredible impact those programs had on people and stepped away from the tech world to focus on community efforts. For the next ten years, Mike filled the full spectrum of executive nonprofit roles. Mike has helped lead the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Paradox Sports and most recently the Ouray Ice Park. Mike’s enthusiasm, creativity and responsiveness has contributed to his overwhelming success in making sure EVERYONE can experience the outdoors.
Emma hails from Salt Lake City, Utah where she grew up skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and camping in the deserts of Southern Utah. Prior to joining First Descents, Emma worked with LEAP Therapeutic Wilderness Programs and Big Sky Youth Empowerment, where she helped implement and raise funds for outdoor recreation and community-based interventions. Emma brings 10 years of nonprofit fundraising experience, with a particular focus on grant writing and institutional giving. She is passionate about connecting people to the causes they believe in, and enjoys introducing new folks to First Descents.
Outside of the 9-to-5 you can find Emma playing pickleball, attending live storytelling events, spending time with family, and exploring the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Kyle, aka “Rescue,” has been helping people and publications tell their stories for decades as a journalist. Originally from Pittsburgh, Kyle was a writer and editor in Illinois and Florida until she discovered that the West is whereher heart lives. After moving to Colorado in 1993, she reviewed restaurants for Westword and The Denver Post before serving as senior editor forthe Post’s travel, fitness and outdoor adventures sections. In 2014, she struck out on her own to offer storytelling, marketing and media relations strategies to a variety of organizations, including the City of Denver’s Department of Public Health & Environment.
As a two-time breast cancer survivor who was first diagnosed at age 39 and has written extensively about finding healing through outdoor pursuits, she could not be more aligned with or passionate about First Descents’ mission. When she’s not mountain biking or steering apackraft through whitewater, Kyleexplores the world and fosters dogs looking for their forever families.
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.
Keith grew up in The Region and after graduating from Purdue University he promptly moved out west where he spent years organizing and raising money for environmental & social justice non-profit organizations, including the Sierra Club & the Human Rights Campaign, in Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado.
Keith fell in love with Colorado and decided to make it home. He next helped start an organization that raises millions of dollars for PBS across the country. He continues to serve as a board member for a number of these organizations and stays involved as much as possible. When not working you will find him snowboarding, rafting, or canyoneering. Keith is beyond excited to bring his experience and passion to the FD team and to continue to build on its mission.
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!
Growing up in Loveland, Shea got to experience the Colorado outdoors while camping, hiking, and traveling all over the state. This instilled a love of outdoor recreation and led her to receive a degree in Recreation Management from Metro State University in Denver. Some consider her a jack of all trades as she’ll try anything. Shea enjoys woodworking, yoga, skydiving, building Earthships, reading anything by Michael Pollan, and attending concerts. She most recently worked at Skydive Orange Skies where she worked directly with the owner to help grow and manage the business from day one of operations. Shea has felt drawn to pursue a career in the non-profit world ever since spending a gap year serving in AmeriCorps NCCC and is stoked to have joined the dedicated team here at First Descents.
Annie was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. While Annie always loved being outside as a kid, her life was changed when she stumbled her way onto a NOLS trip in college and found her love for outdoor recreation. Since then she has prioritized communing in nature with others both personally and professionally. In between summers working as a backpacking guide with Moondance Adventures, Annie has been a marketing analyst, software developer, and SEO guru. She decided it was time to fuse her passion for creating life changing outdoor experiences with her data oriented brain as the Finance & Operations Coordinator for FD. Outside of work, Annie loves skiing, playing games, making pottery, and romping around with her husband (Landon) and dog (Nellie). Annie feels lucky to be joining the FD community!
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!
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!
As an east coast native, Anna grew up in Richmond, VA and graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2020. With a craving for adventure, she quickly fled west after graduation to start Out Living It.
While figuring out the post-grad life and witnessing her father’s battle with glioblastoma back home, she came across First Descents and never looked back.
With a love for the outdoors and an urge to continue her work in the non-profit world, Anna is thrilled to help further the First Descents mission as the Marketing and Events Coordinator.
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!
Julia (aka DBunz) joins First Descents as an avid adventurer, lover of logistics, and offers an abundance of energy. Formerly a Field Guide for the National Center for Outdoor & Adventure Education, Julia led multi-day expeditions from the wilderness of Oregon to mangroves of the Everglades. When she wasn’t in the backcountry, she assisted with coordinating and found her niche passion for planning. For four summer seasons, Julia could be found up East in the woods of New Hampshire as a camp counselor. She now finds s’mores and the faint smell of campfire nostalgic. Born and raised in St. Louis, Julia made the move to Denver from Wilmington, NC. Julia is excited to be out West and eager to join the mission of #OutLivingIt! In her free time, she can be found on the trails with her pup Otis, seeing her favorite artists live, or binge watching Below Deck.
Program Coordinator - Participant Engagement and Recruitment
Born and raised in Southern California, Summer (aka “Lumos”) grew up splashing around the Orange County beaches, frolicking through meadows in Yosemite, and exploring the desert in Joshua Tree. She graduated from CSU Channel Islands where she fell in love with environmental science and making the outdoor space accessible to all. During her time in California, she worked closely with Patagonia and The Surfrider Foundation in planning events and environmental campaigns for the local community. In 2022, she graduated from Western Colorado University with an MBA in the Outdoor Industry where she worked on JEDI projects with the National Forest Foundation. Summer finally made the move to Denver (yay, seasons!) for this position with the First Descents programs team and is stoked to aid in creating space for all in the outdoors.
Reid was raised exploring the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia. After earning a master’s degree from the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, he moved to Denver and started working in nonprofit fundraising. He comes to First Descents with experience in advocating for mental health legislation and organizing events to benefit Colorado’s underserved communities.
An avid backpacker, Reid loves getting outdoors and has enjoyed long-distance hikes from Scotland to Hawaii and, of course, Colorado.
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!
Mia Lewis serves as the Chef Manager for First Descents – a role she is truly grateful for. After raising her five children and being in the hair industry for 20 years, Mia became extremely curious about the food she was consuming and how it was impacting her body. This personal journey led her to the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) to fulfill her goal of sharing the healing properties of food with others.
Mia found First Descents shortly after she graduated from NGI in 2013 as a health supportive chef, and has been serving the organization ever since. She instantly saw how, just like outdoor adventure, food can help participants heal, inspire them to make lifestyle changes, and provide a new opportunity for “challenge by choice” through different/healthier food options.
After working nearly 40 programs with First Descents, Mia assumed an even more rewarding role in 2018 as Chef Manager. She has since grown the chef team from six people to more than 25 – all trained in supportive cooking. While she still gets out on programs, building this team has been one of her most rewarding experiences.
Mia’s journey to discover ways to nurture and heal the body didn’t stop with delicious food. During the pandemic, Mia was craving community and other ways to help people feel better in their bodies. This led her to pursue her 200-hour yoga teacher training certification and she is now not only teaching yoga in her local community, but is sprinkling it into FD programs as well.
The most joyful part of Mia’s job is knowing that she has been able to provide participants with the gift of nourishment. There is nothing quite like the feeling when she runs into participants years down the line who are still eating plant-based or are feeling so much better because of diet changes they were inspired to make.
Program Manager - Participant Engagement & Recruitment
Riley, or Chum as she is known at FD, grew up in Denver, CO, where her love for the outdoors and adventure grew from a young age. Chum left Denver for a few years while she was in school at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. While there she studied Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Philosophy, and spent much of her time as an outdoor guide for the universities outdoor recreation program. As an outdoor guide for the program she had the opportunity to bring fellow students and faculty into the outdoors, and also began working as a program coordinator for the organization. After graduating, Chum moved back to Denver and is thrilled to be home and working for an organization that is dear to her heart.
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.
Nellie is a renowned parkour athlete currently residing in Golden, Colorado. Originally from Oklahoma, she ended up in a Denver shelter in the summer of 2020 before finding her home in the foothills. An exemplary canine citizen, Nellie enjoys hiking, parkour, Starbucks pup cups, everyone over the age of 12, and cuddling. Though she is perfect in every way, Nellie is currently working on bettering herself by improving her relationships with children, vacuums, squirrels, and campfires.
Shanti is a sweet and sassy Rhodesian Ridgeback who is slowly but surely embracing her role to fill her big brother, Sloan’s pawprints. Born in May 2019, she came into her prime as a pandemic pup. She loves adventures in the mountains, frolicking on trails through summer wildflowers, autumn leaves and winter snow. Her parents, Wolf and Sprinkles, admit that Shanti is a bit spoiled, but she claims that all her four-legged friends are too. Perhaps most importantly, Shanti is a give’r of expert snuggz and lots of love!
Cassady spent the first couple years of his life escaping from yards in rural Texas. As a repeat offender he ended up on death row. Luckily for him and the rest of us he was rescued at the 11th hour by a shelter in the Colorado mountains. This is where he found his forever home and moved to Denver. It took Cassady a while to adjust to city life and learn how to be a dog. He had never been in a house before let alone the city and didn’t understand what toys were and how fun they are. He still likes to escape whenever he can, but he hasn’t ended up back in the pound, yet. Cassady loves long walks, napping on the couch, and belly rubs, lots of belly rubs.
Otis was born in Missouri but spent his first year living in Orlando, FL where he attended classes at Rollins College. After class, Otis worked at a local boutique and assisted in providing the best vibes for each visiting customer. Post college, Otis made the move to Wilmington, NC and quickly fell in love with Farmers Markets and being a spectator during weekly sunrise surfs. Since moving to Colorado, Otis’ Mountain dog dreams have finally turned into a reality. You can find him being a certified good boy on the trails, at the coffee shop, or snuggled up on the couch. Otis is honored to be a part of the First Descents community!
A self-proclaimed “professional napper”, Moose takes his job very seriously. He’s been known to nap for 23 hours per day, yet never once sleeping through a meal or his daily walks. He is also an accomplished snuggler, curling up on the couch with his humans and binge-watching the latest Netflix series or some terrible reality show (don’t judge, we all have our guilty pleasures). He takes his role as Chief Happiness Officer very seriously and always willing to lend a paw to anyone who needs it. He’s a good boy.
Meet Teddy, the four-legged professional snoozer, food and outdoors enthusiast. When he’s not napping, you can find him enjoying the great outdoors (especially deep snow) with his dad. Teddy is known for his chill and mellow demeanor, making him the perfect companion for any occasion. He’s always up for a good hangout session, whether it’s lounging around the house or exploring the great outdoors. With his wagging tail and friendly disposition, Teddy is a charmer who seems to get away with everything because he’s a good dog-o!
Weighing in at 23lbs, Buoy is the lovable dirt devil of Piano Pat and Wild Bill. Buoy spent his formative years living in Cooke City, Montana where he grew accustomed to snow machines, grumbling at bison on long drives through Yellowstone National Park, and living blissfully on the bottom of the food chain. Buoy now calls Girdwood, Alaska home and is happiest when he is off leash, chasing skis, in the front passenger seat, begging for salmon, and gnawing on twigs.
The child was picked up off the empty streets of the planet, Tatooine, at the wee age of 7 weeks. Just a few days later, he was dropped off at his fur-ever home in a galaxy far far away with the name 265, escorted safely by a great Mandalorian. From there, the debate started, whatever shall this tiny child’s new name be? Who is 265 destined to become?
While there was much discussion, his parents were able to narrow it down to Meeker and Solo. 265’s connection to the force was challenged and he doubted his galaxy-fighting abilities to live up to the name Solo. Choosing a quiet life on Earth and leaving the great fights of the galaxy behind, 265 chose his destiny and Meeker he became (he heard it was a tall mountain on this planet). He is happy to report that he has done a fine job living up to his Earth name, and can often be found running around in the mountains, sleeping on the couch, or destroying his toys… maybe he does have some galaxy-fighting abilities yet. His connection to the force grows stronger each day.
Nell is a purebred Aussie who spent her first two years protecting a person experiencing homelessness in Fort Collins. When he could no longer care for her, Kyle aka “Rescue” lived up to her nickname and brought Nell home for good. When she’s not trying to boss around everyone within herding distance, Nell loves to hike and camp, but her favorite thing is finding a fresh pile of cow poop to roll around in.
Ruby hails from Ventura, California and now loves her mountain state of Colorado. She loves all people and is working on her manners with other pups. Ruby enjoys car rides with her head out the window, sleeping in the sun, swimming in lakes, hiking with her human, and chasing squirrels (her worst enemy).
Joey, named after the greatest athlete of all time, Joey Chestnut, is a small but mighty miniature dachshund. He joins the lowriders from Louisiana but has quickly become a mountain man – enjoying hiking and snow days. He can often be found tearing apart a fresh roll of toilet paper or collecting sticks in the backyard. With big ears and even bigger dreams, he hopes to join Joey Chestnut in the rankings as a competitive eater.