Years ago I was a teacher and coach for a high school for kayakers, the Academy at Adventure Quest. I'm still a teacher for kayak high school but that's another school and story. Then, 1999, Brad Ludden was training for a world championship title in freestyle kayaking and later would be part of revolutionary kayak filmmaking. I was an aspiring kayaker myself who’d found an international vehicle to rivers via teaching high school sciences and coaching for Adventure Quest. Brad ended up winning the silver medal that year in New Zealand. While, technically I was his coach he’d help my kayaking more than I helped his.
Today at CKS PaddleFest one of those long overdue old friendship reunions that epitomizes PaddleFest happened there on the shop floor. Counting on running into old friends is one of the beauties of PaddleFest... read on and I'll explain. If you’re lucky enough you’ll get on the water together or share a beer and a story.
After the rudimentary “how are you’s?” and “what have you been doing’s?” I realized I really did not know much about “First Descents.”
“You know Brad I think most people understand you’ve started a non-profit for cancer survivors but if they’re like me then that’s about the extent of it…” After a few moments it was obvious Brad had been working night and day with board members, seeking funding, growth plans, and the development of the program. Like many young business owners and the young adults he’s helped Brad’s a survivor in the midst of tedious hours dedicated to a cause.
Impressively Brad detailed phases of cancer survivors and reasons their psychosocial development ceases and how that relates to kayaking.
“Huh. Psychosocial development. You lost me Brad.” Brad explained that kayakers and for that matter any sport niche group of climbers, mountain bikers, trekkers and the like all have fulfilling challenges. The CKS PaddleFest is a perfect example of like-minded people getting together to kayak, charge some rapids or master their loop, and later have a beer. Meaning that there is obvious community and fulfilling activities within this group.
Brad continued to explain that First Descents deals with young adults ages 18-39. That age range has common “psychosocial” developments like relationships, changing bodies, exploring social dilemmas like jobs or debt, and other areas common to youth. Once cancer imposes itself these psychosocial developments cease and the survivor is left with a void. The survivor is dealing with feelings of isolation, self-identification, and lack of community.
First Descents takes advantages of the community benefits of kayaking. Brad described the program having three phases ranging from denial and helping the individual realize they are not alone (FD-1) to the final stages of forming new community (FD-X).
Brad states, “You know it’s funny you were talking about the importance of community earlier. First Descents takes a legit challenge like kayaking and uses that challenge to restore the psychosocial damage that is done. Forming community from start to end is a key to the individual’s success and recovery.”
Teachers are one of those breeds that get great enjoyment out of seeing the success and contentment of their students. For me hearing Brad share stories of what has become his life’s passion was rewarding. Thanks Brad for coming to PaddleFest and sharing your story.
Brad Ludden Team Dagger BioFirst Descents
CKS Content Media Specialist
Owner- Pucon Kayak Hostel, your economical Chile destination with beds, kayak rentals, and beginner to advanced rivers. "Keep Kayaking."
Director- Huge Experiences' New River Academy, "And that has made all the difference."