Posted by: Ashley | July 1, 2009

First Descents come to Wausau Whitewater

I knew it was coming. I knew it was a good thing. But nothing could have prepared me for today in the way of expectations or how I would feel about this latest partnership for Wausau Whitewater. First Descents provides whitewater kayaking and other outdoor adventure experiences to promote emotional, psychological and physical healing for young adults with cancer.

The board discussed combining with First Descents several years ago and we all agreed it was something we wanted to do but until Michael Schroeder started making phone calls and sending e-mails, it was a stalled project. As we explored the connection, we found that Bear Paw’s Scott Berry was making the same connections with First Descents. Since the connection was already in progress, we decided that the best thing was to work together and provide a day on Wausau Whitewater for the group and Bear Paw was already selected as the host site for the campers lodging and the rest of the week-long program. Mike arranged for the water release from Wisconsin Public Service as part of our schedule and he and I planned to be available during the day. He knew he would be on site all day. I was just taking the day as it came. I thought I might be leaving to go back to my home office.

I packed up Teddy (the German Shepherd who goes with me to the river whenever I think I can manage him and my other tasks) and plenty of work to keep me busy on the river. But once the group arrived, I knew I was hooked and I wasn’t going home.

Once of my first surprises was the Rebecca Giddens (Olympic Silver Medal Winner) had come to join the group! I hadn’t seen Rebecca in a few years but I had e-mailed her in spring when I was working on sponsorship materials to ask if I could use her help with our fundraising campaign and told her about the First Descents event coming up. I forgot that she had said she wanted to get involved but there she was!

The next surprise was that Brad Ludden, the founder of First Descents, was also walking up the river! Brad and I had exchanged Tweets on Twitter but I had never met him. Brad’s reputation an exceptional paddler would add to my day.

WSAW arrived shortly after the campers and I set them up to connect with Brad Ludden and arranged for him to both do a story and connect them with camp participants who would be willing to go on camera. Cameras rolling filmed boaters on the water and Matt Behrens and Julia Trotter captured the magic of the day. #mce_temp_url#

WAOW’s Casey Lake called me to let me know he’d be sending a crew too and Pat Peckham from City Pages was there for a photo op. Jim Rosenberg arrived to take photos for Wisconsin Public Service and he too was caught by the difference for this group of paddlers on the Wausau Whitewater course.

I talked with Virginia Ludden, Brad Ludden’s mom for quite awhile about the First Descent program, the course, the people involved and gained the sense that this was a special project that both mom and son were deeply invested in.

WAOW’s Erik Mrotek and videographer Tom both came to the river and created a great story highlighting the benefits of First Descents and their visit to Wausau Whitewater. Go to Waow.com for the story. (multiple tries to link is not working)

Tony came down to provide safety and I know he had just as good of a day in the water as the campers. Tony is our safety director and he is retired but he was swimming in the river, chasing lost boats, and encouraging the paddlers and I know he wouldn’t have missed this day for anything either.

Teddy spent the day intermingling with the campers, nuzzling them, and letting them pet him. He’s so good with people that I had no worries about anyone petting him and before long everyone was calling his name and he was loving it. That big dog of mine sure has a way of working his way into people’s hearts. He came home so tired from working all day that he’s been sleeping ever since.

I came away after watching these special paddlers come down the river with a feeling that Wausau Whitewater brought joy to more people’s hearts today and after watching the videos and reading the news stories, I am just so glad that we have this wonderful resource to share. Cancer is a horrible disease but these paddlers gave no evidence of being sick. They took to the challenge of the river and made it their own!

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