First Descents Benefit Event Slated for Cali Memorial Day

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“Paddle With the Pros” Benefit Event for First Descents Features Big Names

This Memorial Day weekend presents a rare opportunity to satisfy your whitewater craving and your conscience at the same time, all while boating with some serious big-shots. The “Paddle with the Pros” event in Coloma, California, puts proceeds to First Descents, a program designed to empower cancer survivors. You’re likely to have so much fun you’ll forget it’s for a good cause.

On May 24-25 a series of races will be held on the South Fork of the American to benefit First Descents, a program pro kayaker Brad Ludden founded in 2001 to help cancer survivors jump back into their lives by providing free adventure activities like kayaking and rafting in a supportive environment. The May event will feature a boatercross race, downriver races, a free roll clinic hosted by California Canoe & Kayak, a Class III+ Poker Race and an after-party with video premier and raffle. If those aren’t good enough reasons (you needed a reason to go boating?) Ludden, Eric Jackson, the Jackson team and two-time wildwater and slalom champion and Olympic coach Corey Nielsen will be at the races as well, giving you a chance to rub elbows with boating’s big wigs. But don’t be intimidated — they won’t be racing. They’ll just be wreaking havoc in the water, making cameo appearances while the amateurs take center stage.

“It’s going to be a great river festival with some of the true legends of the sport,” says Ludden. “We’re hoping to use it to raise significant funds for First Descents.”

To shed more light on Ludden’s First Descents camp, and the upcoming fundraiser, PL cornered Ludden while getting ready for this year’s epic runoff. Here’s what he had to say:

PL: First Descents is making great strides…are you surprised?

Ludden: I’ve always believed that First Descents could and would go big but I’m still so excited to watch it happen. I credit the growth to a few things. First, to the many volunteers and donations that people so selflessly make — without them we wouldn’t exist. Second, I think kayaking and other outdoor adventure sports really do fill in many of the holes that cancer has created in a young adult’s life after cancer. There really isn’t anything out there like First Descents for this demographic and the statistics show that the demo is growing (sadly), so naturally we are seeing huge growth as an organization.

PL: How does it feel making such a difference in people’s lives?

Ludden: I’m just one of many people contributing to this cause and making a difference. That said, it’s the one thing that brings meaning and truth to my life. I would be lost without it and strongly encourage everyone to get involved in something they care about.

PL: Has kayaking proven to be a great medium for what you’re trying to accomplish?

Ludden: Kayaking is and always will be our biggest cornerstone. As any kayaker knows, the sport is challenging, rewarding, fun and scary. It makes you feel like you have really accomplished something. That accomplishment speaks loudly to our participants and the sport makes a big impact on their lives. We are expanding to include mountaineering in Jackson Hole this summer as well.

PL: Having done so many courses now, does it put kayaking into perspective for you in the whole scheme of things?

Ludden: Yes, it really does. I always saw kayaking as life. I held it above all else. FD came along and showed me that there are so many more important things in life. I have gained a perspective from volunteering for this foundation that is invaluable. I live each day differently because I’ve been a part of this foundation.

PL: What have you taken away from FD so far?

Ludden: Be grateful for your health, tell your family you love them each and every day, do the thing you cannot do and most importantly, live loud and live now.

For further information about First Descents, see the following video (courtesy of Plum TV, Vail, Colorado): First Descents vid

Find additional event information and registration forms at First Descents under Giving/Grassroots Events.

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