First Descents is a nonprofit that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer and other serious health conditions. NATIVE had the pleasure of sponsoring an FD trip, and we wanted them to share with everyone how impacting what they do really is.
Read on to get a glimpse into a multi-day biking trip through the Florida keys, as recounted by Sara “Postal” Connell.
Somehow, I made it a whole 25 years of life as a Floridian without ever visiting the Florida Keys. Weird, I know. The first time I traveled the 100-mile stretch from Key Largo to Key West was not in the comfort of a top-down convertible. Instead, I managed to convince myself that riding a bike that distance would be no big deal and signed myself up for a weekend adventure with a few friends from First Descents (FD).
This wild gaggle of humans has a fierce reputation for supporting young adult cancer survivors as they dare to try out new sports, new skills, new levels of endurance, and new versions of themselves. I attended my first program with FD back in 2012 and have been hooked ever since. My trip to Key West was an entirely different flavor of challenge for me—it was so much less about fear and so much more about pushing my mental limits.
Fast forward several years and countless opportunities to soak up the love that the FD community generates, and I find myself beyond honored to now work for them as a Lead Staff on their multi-day programs. I had biked the journey to Key West with them each year as a participant or volunteer, but this year I was given the privilege of leading the trip.
A few of the participants who made the ride with us this year knew each other from other events or programs, and a few brave souls chose to make this weekend their first FD experience ever. We all showed up ready to roll and representing this year’s theme—Wild Ride. As the crew pedaled through day one, I grew more and more impressed by the determination I was seeing in each of them. Not only were they blasting through the miles with smiles and laughter while mostly riding on the shoulder of a 55-mile per hour road, but they were doing it in soul-melting heat. I kept waiting for someone to pass out, call it quits, or need emergency responders. Instead, they were cheering each other on, blasting “Roar” by Katy Perry, and helping give nicknames to the newcomers.
Oh, I forgot to mention that in the First Descents family we have many traditions and one of them is to give each person a nickname. There’s a surprising strength in stepping outside of your everyday self and taking on a totally uncharted version that somehow doesn’t feel so burdened or restrained by the weight of cancer. By the end of day one, we all had really sore butts and the fullest of hearts.
Day two included the breathtaking Seven Mile Bridge, staying hydrated with some water gun action, motivating each other by counting down the miles, and sharing memories about those in our cancer community who no longer have the ability to ride with us. I made sure to watch their faces as they rode into Key West so I could share in their mixed emotions of exhaustion, accomplishment, disbelief, and gratitude. They had each worked so hard for that sweet victory—and suddenly all the sweat and self-doubt was worth it.
As we caravanned back to Key Largo the next morning on day three, we felt like family and didn’t want to say our goodbyes. There is something so magical that happens when you face a personal challenge in a beautiful place with people who support you. You don’t need to climb the highest mountain, take on the most difficult trail you can find, or even bike 100 miles to tap into the feeling of being alive. Sometimes it’s as simple as pushing beyond your comfort zone and leaning into a community that you can relate to. That feeling is what we like to call Out Living It.
Cheers and Happy Adventuring!
—Woodrow, Vegetti, Junior, Gator, Albert, Vibes, Sunflower, Champ, Sweet Tooth, Petals, Jersey, Catfish, Cushion, Papa V, Vroom, and Postal
Photos by Sara “Postal” Connell