Paddling is about more than hucking the biggest waterfall or kayaking the longest expedition. For some people, kayaking is a lifesaver—physically, mentally and emotionally. Recognizing paddling’s ability to heal, inspire and empower, people around the country have started organizations and nonprofits around the sport, and on Aug. 1 at the Canoe & Kayak Awards Show, First Descents stood out above the rest for its dedication to helping cancer survivors reclaim life through whitewater.

Started by Brad Ludden in 2001, First Descents is known for helping young cancer-fighters to paddle, climb and surf beyond their diagnosis and connect with others doing the same. The program is free, including travel scholarships when needed.