With 18 years of experience providing life-changing adventures to young adults with cancer, First Descents piloted a week-long whitewater kayaking program for young adults with multiple sclerosis (MS). This August, 14 young adults with MS gathered in Tarkio, Montana for a week of empowerment, connection, and adventure. The success of this program strengthens First Descents position as the global leader in adventure-based healing, proving that FD programs are effective beyond oncology.
“Following CNN Heroes in 2016, our team received requests from various healthcare organizations to provide adventure programming to their young adult patients,” said First Descents founder and professional kayaker, Brad Ludden. “Anxiety, isolation, and depression are common side-effects for young adults impacted by serious illnesses and our programming works to address those psychosocial issues. We’re excited to grow the First Descents family and bring the proven healing power of adventure to young adults with MS.”
First Descents worked closely with healthcare professionals from the National MS Society and CanDo MS to organize the pilot program. Velocity Global, a leading employment solutions provider, underwrote all costs associated with the planning and implementation of the pilot. Equally inspiring, members of their leadership team volunteered at the August 2018 program for young adults with MS.
“We’re incredibly proud to have helped make the First Descents MS pilot program a success,” said Velocity Global CEO Ben Wright. “Our team has supported and volunteered with First Descents on numerous occasions, but it’s especially rewarding to help the organization bring these transformative experiences to young adults coping with MS.”
Velocity Global’s innovative support did not go unrecognized by participants. One participant remarked, “This really opened up a door for me. I’m just really entirely grateful that someone said, ‘Let’s do this for MS. Let’s connect some folks and see what we can do.’ You know, MS is an adventure that none of us chose, but to have a positive adventure come out of this has been really life-changing.”
Indeed, this program was a testament to the healing power of First Descents programs. Participants found a sense of adventure and a willingness to share their experiences in a way that had never been available to them in the past. For many, it was the first opportunity they had to truly connect and relate to others who understood their experience.
One participant reflected, “I realized how much I was actually holding in because I don’t have that many people who truly understand what I’m going through. They try, but they’re just not capable of understanding. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by others who had MS that I could more freely express my challenges and my fears, because they truly understood.”
First Descents is currently conducting focus groups and participant evaluations to guide MS program development in 2019 and beyond. The thoughtful feedback from pilot participants and partnering organizations has been tremendous and much appreciated! FD will likely administer several multi-day programs for young adults coping with MS in 2019.
On October 25, CNN published a short film about the First Descents MS programming, featuring stories from the pilot camp in Montana. CNN has followed the progress of First Descents since 2016 when it awarded First Descents and Brad Ludden one of its Top 10 CNN Hero Awards.