One of the first things that Brad Ludden did when he decided to start an organization that teaches people with cancer how to kayak was choose a name for his initiative, calling it First Descents. “The first descent is the first time that someone successfully kayaks down a river,” Ludden explains. For many cancer patients who brave the waters under the encouraging, expert guidance of Ludden, First Descents provides an occasion for a uniquely transformative journey, one that pushes the limits of self-doubt, dispelling it into joy, while also pitting individuals in the midst of a challenge that reminds even the best of athletes of the obligation that we all have to live life to the fullest while given the chance. “We’re taking everyone out of their element,” says Ludden; “we’re taking them out of cancer.”


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  • Visit First Descents to learn more about the history, mission, and impact of Ludden’s organization.
  • For another amazing story of courage and hope in the face of debilitation, learn about the life of Hope Bevilhymer, whose capacity to face and transform the difficulty of a physical condition led her to help others.
  • Are there ways in which you can make your own life a fuller expression of itself, be it in your own daily actions or when shared with others?

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