In 2001, Brad Ludden gave new meaning to the term “first descent.” As one of the world’s top professional kayakers at the time, Ludden had paddled first descents all over the world on Class V+ whitewater. After watching his 38-year-old aunt battle cancer, Ludden refocused and founded First Descents, an organization that provides opportunities for young cancer fighters and survivors to conquer their own personal first descents and find empowerment through paddling, rock climbing, and surfing.

“When you’re a young person with cancer, it’s so isolating,” said Ludden. “All your friends are getting married, having children, starting jobs and living life. Here you are fighting for yours. […] While thousands of people have kayaked these sections of river before them, it’s their first time down,” Ludden said. “You see it at the bottom of the rapids in the look of accomplishment and pride on their faces.”

—Read the full story on CNN: CNN Hero Brad Ludden

More from C&K:
—Kayakers against cancer
—WHITEWATER HEALING – Paddle with Purpose – 2016 C&K Awards