'Out Living It' with First Descents

Have you ever wanted to scale a massive rock and look like an effortless, graceful spiderman while doing so? How about dominating a white water rapid by stabbing it with a paddle while in a kayak? Maybe showing a wave who’s boss by surfing it with supreme swagger is more of your style. I had always dreamed of being a cool person who does cool and intense sports like these, but I never created the opportunity for myself to try them, nor did I think I had many friends around me who were interested in joining me.

My new favorite organization, First Descents, filled in those gaps by giving me the opportunities to try that fun stuff, along with other pumped-up cancer survivors to share the experience with. They offer outdoor adventure trips at no cost to young adult cancer survivors aged 18-39. First Descents is all about getting you outdoors to do something physically challenging and sometimes psychologically terrifying, and having fun with each moment of it. For each trip, they provide instructors who are top-of-the-line professionals in the sport, who give you their full attention and patience. The First Descents staff members and volunteers will be constantly cheering you on and cracking you up. Did I mention there are often costumes involved? Don’t ask why, just let it happen.

kayakingCancer robs things from all of us. I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that I had lost within me after my cancer experience, but my first trip with First Descents sparked a lot of transformation in myself and my life. I signed up for whitewater kayaking, and I actually brought a cowboy hat with me to shield my face from the sun. I was obviously unaware of the intensity of what I was about to do, and that I would have to wear a helmet. I shook in anxiety at some points during that week, obsessed with my fear of being upside down underwater and strapped inside a kayak. The encouragement and reassurance of the instructors, staff, and my fellow participants, however, motivated me to go for it anyway. Crush those rapids anyway, I did, sometimes screaming and crying as I charged through, paddling as hard as I could. I definitely ended up upside down and underwater plenty of times, too. It didn’t matter though – I rose to the challenge, and took a risk in the name of fun, and that was all that it needed to be, and more. I’ve never had a more incredibly therapeutic experience in my life.

Apply to go on a week long trip during the summer where you can learn to either surf, rock climb, or whitewater kayak.You can also become involved with local chapters based around the country, called ‘Tribs’, that host smaller scale events such as yoga or paddleboarding. I just finished a more extreme trip with the Orlando Trib, where we cycled 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West in two days, and yes, it totally blew my mind. First Descents has a very fitting slogan: ‘Out Living It’. The experiences I’ve had through this organization continue to teach me how to do exactly that: to give it my all and to indulge in the now. I may be terrified, unsure, and inexperienced, but I am going to come at it full-force and fake it until I make it… and I might as well be laughing hysterically, while I’m at it.

by Kalin Delfino


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