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September 09th, 2015

a week with first descents: lessons from the river

By KIND Editor

First Descents (FD) brings young adults impacted by cancer on outdoor adventures – from surfing in Santa Cruz to rock climbing in Moab. We recently partnered with FD to celebrate their mantra – Out Living It – and encouraged those with or without cancer to live life to the fullest. FD generously offered KIND a volunteer spot for a summer session so that we could experience the magic firsthand. Jenny Hogrefe, a Communications Specialist at KIND’s headquarters, jumped at the chance to spend a week whitewater kayaking in Jackson Hole, WY.

Last week, I traded in my typical commute of skyscrapers and subways for rivers and rapids. The transition was similar to putting on my kayaking gear (wetsuit and all!) for the first time. Initially, it’s a little uncomfortable, a little unfamiliar, but after a week of wear, it began to feel normal, like a second layer of skin.

I saw the opportunity to volunteer with FD as a chance to jolt myself right out of my comfort zone – and truly out live it. Many of the participants came seeking an experience rooted in adventure – one that would give them both a chance to disconnect from the constant buzz of technology and enjoy the beauty of Wyoming as well as connect with a community of people who could intimately relate to their journey.

The group of participants consisted of 12 young adults (ages 24 to 35), representing an array of backgrounds – from an IT expert raised in Minnesota to a lawyer living in Oregon. Equally varied were their diagnoses and experiences with cancer. Some had been in remission for years, whereas others were undergoing treatment right before they arrived in Jackson Hole. But on day one, they all had something in common.

They were tentative, nervous and uncertain about the week ahead. Those feelings, however, were short lived. By the end of their first day on the river, a sense of calm began to take hold. I had the pleasure of watching as they became more comfortable amidst the whitewater.

Their quick adjustment came as no surprise – after all, these individuals know how to handle unfamiliar waters. In confronting their cancer, they’ve had to adapt and act fast. Although the river presented a different set of challenges, they were well suited to handle anything that came their way.

The river is a powerful teacher and while amongst the waves, we found that it taught us all many lessons. We all discussed this idea around the campfire one evening. What I found so poignant was that the lessons we were learning from the river were applicable not only to everyday life, but also to the participants’ experiences with cancer. Here are a couple of themes the group shared:

The river requires your full commitment. To get through the rapids, you must face them head on and look to where you want to go. There’s no point trying to control the river – you just have to go with the flow and respect what the river is offering you at the moment.

You must paddle with purpose, especially when the going gets tough. If an obstacle is in your way, you have to resist the urge to panic. Find a way to lean in, then push off it and get back on course.

Should you find yourself flipped over and struggling to get right side up, keep calm. A helping hand is usually waiting for you on the sidelines, ready to give you their all – you just need to ask.

The river (despite its literal ups and downs) helped bring to light these and other important lessons – many of which we’d heard before, but took on fresh meaning in this new setting.

Many thanks to the entire FD community, including all of the campers, coaches, chefs and camp moms, for making this experience so memorable and sharing the lessons they learned so wisely.

A special thanks to Woody Roseland, the photographer, videographer and kayaker extraordinaire for sharing his photos. You can check out his work at

Earlier this year, KIND donated a portion of the proceeds from our founder & CEO’s book, Do the KIND Thing, to FD. To learn more, check out this page and for more on FD, visit

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