Brad was born in Wyoming and raised in Northwest Montana. He spent his days in the outdoors with his family hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing and, of course, kayaking. Of all his passions, kayaking caught his eye the most. His parents gave him his first kayak when he was 9 and at age 12 he was traveling and competing internationally. By 18 he had kayaking in over 20 countries and found his true passion within the sport, first descents. A first descent is the first time a person successfully kayaks a river or section of river that has never been done. Through his first descents he found immense challenge, adventure, community and personal growth.
Cancer went from being just some random word to something very personal when he was 12 and his Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. After watching her endure cancer and seeing how little support there was available to her, Brad started volunteering for a local pediatric oncology program by teaching the participants how to kayak. He fell in love with it and decided it was time to do more so at 18, he started working on an organization that would soon become “First Descents”. Its goal- to help young adults like his Aunt by giving them the life changing experience of kayaking. “I wanted to recreate the experience of a ‘first descent’, that had so greatly impacted my life, for people like my aunt who really needed it. Even though thousands of people have been down the rivers they’re kayaking at camp, it’s still the FIRST time they’ve been down it and that’s the magic of FD!”
While Brad still kayaks and has some sponsors like Dagger, AT Paddles, Kokatat and Smith Optics, he focuses the majority of his time on helping FD grow to serve more young adults with cancer.
Ryan (aka Wolf) has a unique blend of for-profit, non-profit and direct experience with the young adult cancer community. He is the Founder / Chairman of Rise Above It (RAI), an organization deeply committed to advancing the field of adolescent and young adult oncology (AYAO). He was originally introduced to First Descents through his work at RAI. Ryan served on LIVESTRONG’s Grant Review Committees and as a member of the Young Adult Alliance Oversight Committee prior to joining the Foundation’s staff full-time in 2011. During his tenure at LIVESTRONG, Ryan supported individual major gifts, foundation grants, corporate engagement, and also managed the Young Leaders Cancer Council (YLCC).
Prior to joining LIVESTRONG, Ryan worked in Accenture’s Strategy Practice where he managed Fortune 500 client accounts across several industries. Ryan holds B.S.B.A. in Technology Management & Finance from Georgetown University, where he was captain of the football team and a Division I All American in 2000.
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.
Julie (aka Fruity Booty) hails from the great city of Collinsville, IL — the horseradish and ketchup bottle capital of the world. After graduating from the University of Dayton in 2006 she spent several years guiding snorkeling and whale watching tours in Maui as a marine naturalist and a summer in Juneau, Alaska as a zipline guide. Julie continued her education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she studied to earn her Master of Science in Kinesiology while working as the Outdoor Recreation Graduate Assistant. While not in class, she coordinated and led camping, canoeing, skiing, and climbing trips for the university community. Immediately following graduation Julie moved to Denver to escape the humidity in southern Illinois and explore the mountains. Julie is pumped to be working at First Descents and is excited to bring the outdoors to others as a source of personal, emotional, physical and spiritual growth. Besides FD, Julie loves cooking, scuba diving, backpacking, traveling and rollerblading.
Money Penny was raised in the United Kingdom, but has called America home for a while. Moving here to pursue her career in aviation, she lived (and flew) all over the Rockies and it was in Denver that she learned about First Descents.
After volunteering at any event or program she was able, Money Penny decided to pause her aviation lifestyle and take a summer working programs for FD all over the west which quickly turned into a full time job and a major career change! 6 years later, she can be found overseeing the Programs Department with her team (The Dolphin Squad) by her side, where together their goal is to reach as many YA’s as possible through First Descents!
Money Penny now calls Bozeman, Montana home and is able to keep a close eye on the growing amount of programs that are now being offered in her backyard!
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.
John (aka Fever Dog) was born and raised in Wisconsin but made his way west to attend college in Colorado. After graduation, he moved to Asia where he found work as an English teacher, ski instructor, and travel writer. John ultimately returned to the Colorado Rockies and worked for multiple outdoor/experiential adolescent development programs before pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Denver. It was during this time that a close friend and First Descents alum introduced him to the organization, and John’s appreciation for the FD mission grew even stronger when he left the outdoor industry to work as a medical social worker for the University of Colorado Hospital. At First Descents, John is thrilled to combine his passion for outdoor adventure with his professional experience helping people navigate and overcome the challenges of medical treatment and recovery. When he’s not at the FD office, John enjoys live music, snowboarding, and trail running with his dog, Luna.
Born and raised in the Northeast, Andy(Panda Cakes) found his love and passion for the outdoors in the great state of Maine. In search of wilder adventures, manifest destiny took Panda Cakes to the Rocky Mountains, where he landed in the beautiful state of Montana. Panda spent the majority of his time playing amongst mountains and rivers while simultaneously obtaining a B.S. degree in Recreation Management & Resource Conservation from the University of Montana. While exploring the great north, it was not long before Panda Cakes found himself immersed in the whitewater kayaking community and catching word of First Descents. With a passion for getting others out in nature and desire to stand up for an incredible cause, Panda Cakes quickly moved south to begin “Out Living It” with Team FD. Currently residing in Boulder, CO, Panda man loves to spend his free time in Colorado’s alpine playground, hiking, biking, boarding and paddling. He is newest member of the Programs Team in the FD office and is more than stoked to help create a positive impact!
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!
Born and raised just south of Denver, Ella has always called the Rocky Mountains her home. After completing her MBA at the University of Denver, Ella used her background in finance to work in corporate America. Feeling confined to her cubicle, Ella then moved to Tanzania, East Africa where she ran the business operations of a primary school at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Now back in Denver, Ella is excited to be party of the operations team, see her Rocky mountains every day, and make a difference in our community. When Ella is not working, you can find her running trails or teaching yoga.
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 Tribe!
Melissa was raised in the Eastern Pennsylvania town made famous by Billy Joel, but her love of adventure and the outdoors finally brought her west after nine years of playing and working in New York City. She finds her deepest peace traveling to unfamiliar places with her camera in hand, and in 2013 spent four months living at a South African orphanage, helping with marketing and photography needs. Melissa believes the blessing is often outside of one’s comfort zone, and experienced this to be true when training for her first half marathon a few years ago. She continues to love the meditative nature of running, and recently received her certification to teach mindfulness meditation to others. With a unique blend of for-profit and nonprofit experience, and a heartfelt personal connection to First Descent’s mission, Melissa is thrilled to be joining the FD team in her new home of Denver.
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!
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.
Sloan Dawg embodies virtually none of the characteristics of a breed that was once used to hunt lions in the plains of South Africa… In fact, when in the office he spends most of his time trying to survive Dooby’s wrath!
Sloan received his nickname, Millionaire, because he is an official AKC Champion. But he’s not a snob, he’s just goofy!
Mogley is the the FDHQ oddball, keeping it interesting with long stares into staff members souls, sneaky trips to the cafe in hopes of scoring some chicken, and sometimes snoring so loudly we can’t hear ourselves think. Don’t let his oddness fool you though, he is a sweet pup through and through and looks forward to the days he gets to go into work with his human, Dizzy.
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.