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Brad Ludden, professional kayaker and the founder of First Descents provides perspective through his own challenges and adventures on rivers around the world and through the triumphs of the young adults with cancer served through the organization, "First Descents."

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Dear Friends,

I wanted to fill you in on the Leadville 100 as it is now over and all that remains are amazing memories, sore legs and an awesome belt buckle!

Dear Friends,

I wanted to fill you in on the Leadville 100 as it is now over and all that remains are amazing memories, sore legs and an awesome belt buckle!

Throughout the race I developed a mantra to keep me positive. Anytime I started to fear a big climb or worry about my bike coming apart, I would just say, "Stay with me Nickname." As many of you know, Nickname (aka Nick Raitt) was a dear friend and FD Alum who lost his life this summer to cancer at a young age. I did this race in his memory and that simple mantra seemed to work wonders. I can only imagine that he was busy watching over me and so many of his other friends that day.

I managed to finish the race in 11 hours and have to say it was the hardest 11 hours I've experienced in any kind of sporting event. I need to thank all of you for supporting me in this challenge. I couldn't have done this without you behind me.

In addition to my goal of finishing this event, I set an equally tough goal of raising 10k and thanks to so many of you (you know who you are- THANK YOU!!!) I'm well on my way. However, even though the finish line is behind me, the challenge continues. I would be honored if you could dig deep just one more time to make any contribution you feel comfortable making to support me in my final push to the end of this challenge. Click here to donate.

For every 1,000 dollars we raise, First Descents will send another young adult with cancer, just like Nickname, on a life-changing adventure. Thank you for making it all possible!

Gratefully yours!
Brad

Accordion
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When was the last time you stopped and appreciated a simple sight? Like the color of a tree in bloom, the sky on a sunny day, the stars on a clear night, the magnificence of a grasshopper or a bunch of ants working tirelessly on their home? When was the last time you stopped and just appreciated the beauty of our sense of sight and the amazing things it allows us to do from read this blog, mountain bike, catch a ball or communicate to someone without talking? If you’re anything like me, you don’t stop to appreciate sight very often.

When was the last time you stopped and appreciated a simple sight? Like the color of a tree in bloom, the sky on a sunny day, the stars on a clear night, the magnificence of a grasshopper or a bunch of ants working tirelessly on their home? When was the last time you stopped and just appreciated the beauty of our sense of sight and the amazing things it allows us to do from read this blog, mountain bike, catch a ball or communicate to someone without talking? If you’re anything like me, you don’t stop to appreciate sight very often. At least that’s the way I was before I met Neil “Tailz” Taylor.

Tailz has quickly become one of my closest friends and biggest inspirations in life. Every so often we meet someone who changes the way we think, feel and act simply because of his or her perspective on life. Tailz is one of those people.

Three years ago, Tailz was living the life he had always planned for himself. He was a teacher at a school for boys with learning disabilities, an alumnus of the reputable D1 lacrosse team at University of Vermont and dating the woman of his dreams, a nurse. He didn’t know it at the time but she would save his life.

A few days before his 29th birthday, Tailz started having tunnel vision in his left eye. It would last only a few seconds before returning to normal and Tailz chocked it up to needing more sleep. His girlfriend, however, saw red flags and forced him to go to the hospital. When he finally went, doctors found a tumor the size of an orange in the left hemisphere of his brain and told him he needed immediate brain surgery. The plan was to do a “sleep wake” surgery whereby doctors would keep Tailz partially conscious so they could ask him questions to discern which parts of the brain they were working with and thus remove 90% of the tumor. Unfortunately, Tailz went into violent seizures the night before his surgery, forcing doctors to put him under completely.

When Tailz woke, he opened his eyes to see absolutely nothing. He panicked and tried to touch his face only to find his hands and feet strapped to the table. Tailz had awoken to everyone’s worst nightmare- he was completely blind.

Tailz was furious, confused, in denial and quickly digressing in his life. The life he had worked so hard to build. The next year was filled with radiation, chemo and living at home with his parents. Finally, Tailz attended a school for the newly blind where he learned to live a new life, a life without sight. After learning the basics he was able to move into his own apartment where he started his studies to become a massage therapist- a profession he could do and something he was passionate about.

Shortly after Tailz had his surgery, I heard about his story through a friend of mine, Nick Grudin. Nick grew up with Tailz and, ironically, they both had young adult cancers. Although separate cancers, it’s still crazy to hear that two childhood friends were diagnosed as young adults. Nick told me all about Tailz’ story and I decided then and there that I had to get him to a First Descents program and kayak with him. I had no idea how I would teach him or what the experience would be like, but knew it had to happen. In hindsight, I question how much of my ambition was selfish. Was I just looking to be inspired and taking a blind person kayaking would give me that? I’ll never know, but I do know that it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

Tailz came to a Colorado kayak program outside of Vail. As soon as he showed up I knew it was going to be an incredible week. His personality is loud, fun and contagious. You wouldn’t know he was blind unless you saw him walk. In short, this guy got an extra serving of soul.

Our first two days on the water were a learning experience. I had never taught a blind person to kayak and Tailz had never kayaked. What we figured out to be the best option was having me paddle backwards down the river in front of him and yelling so he could follow my voice. When we tried our first moving water and very small rapids, I watched in amazement as Tailz started to correct his kayak before I could tell him to. He knew when he wasn’t straight. He could feel it.

On the second to last day, we entered a tricky class 2 rapid and Tailz flipped for the first time. He was naturally startled and I was freaking out! He did a textbook wet exit but hit his head on a rock in the process. This shook him pretty badly and prompted me to call over one of our other safety boaters to shadow him. We were discussing this new strategy while Tailz sat in his kayak ready to get back on the river. We accidentally forgot he was sitting right next to us and he overheard our conversation. It was then he piped up and shouted, “HEY! I’m blind, not deaf. Don’t fucking coddle me!”

The next day was the last day of kayaking and the biggest rapids. At First Descents, we have a tradition called graduation rapid where we have all of our staff stage at different points in a rapid and then let the participants kayak down one at a time. I went last with Tailz and the whole way down the entire staff and 15 other participants at the bottom were cheering so loudly he could barely hear me. By the bottom we were both crying.

As we floated to the take out that afternoon, Tailz pulled me aside and told me that First Descents had filled a void in his life and that he hadn’t been this happy since going blind. It was one of my proudest moments.

Today, Tailz is our official massage therapist at our programs and will attend nearly 15 weeks of camp this year both as a masseur and a participant. He has already climbed and will kayak again this July in Montana. One of the greatest gifts our participants give us is a fresh perspective on the important things in life and one of the best things Tailz gives our participants is that same perspective. It’s a reminder that no matter what diversity you’re facing, it could be worse and no matter what, it’s your choice to smile through it all.

Accordion
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