Ray Shedd, Director of Development & Marketing
Start Date: 2016
Ray Shedd joins First Descents with an extensive background in nonprofit development, partnership activation, and brand storytelling. Previously, Ray was Director of Partnerships and Marketing at Positive Tracks where he was responsible for the design and implementation of the organization's fundraising and marketing efforts. A big believer in adventure and recreation-based healing, Ray was also Senior Development Officer at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp (THITWGC). During his 9 years with THITWGC, he built a robust corporate partners program and helped diversify the organization's endurance and peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising platform. He also led on key foundation and major gift accounts designed to support Camp's rapidly growing programs for children coping with cancer and other serious illnesses. Ray holds degrees in History and Sociology from the University of Connecticut and a Masters in Organizational Leadership and Nonprofit Management from Quinnipiac University. When not serving the mission of First Descents, Ray can be found playing in the mountains with his golden retriever, Sundance.
Me in 140 Characters or Less: Avid adventurer and philanthropy nerd; Plays outside as much as possible; Believes in the power of love and coffee.
Ryan O'Donoghue, CEO/Executive Director
Start Date: 2013
Ryan (aka Wolf) has a unique blend of for-profit, non-profit and direct experience with the young adult cancer community. He is the Founder / Chairman of Rise Above It (RAI), an organization deeply committed to advancing the field of adolescent and young adult oncology (AYAO). He was originally introduced to First Descents through his work at RAI. Ryan served on LIVESTRONG's Grant Review Committees and as a member of the Young Adult Alliance Oversight Committee prior to joining the Foundation's staff full-time in 2011. During his tenure at LIVESTRONG, Ryan supported individual major gifts, foundation grants, corporate engagement, and also managed the Young Leaders Cancer Council (YLCC).
Prior to joining LIVESTRONG, Ryan worked in Accenture's Strategy Practice where he managed Fortune 500 client accounts across several industries. Ryan holds B.S.B.A. in Technology Management & Finance from Georgetown University, where he was captain of the football team and a Division I All American in 2000.
Mackenzie McGrath, Director of Programs
Start Date: 2018
Mackenzie "Mack Daddy" McGrath joins First Descents with more than a decade of experience designing and managing healing programs around the world as an aid worker, US diplomat and non-profit consultant in Asia, Africa, North America and the Middle East. In 2014, Mackenzie started her own consulting company and also starting working as part time climbing instructor. Mackenzie has a graduate degree in International Studies and a Master's level Certificate from Harvard University in Global Mental Health. This cause is deeply personal, having lost her brother - Taurin - to cancer as a young adult. Mackenzie is excited to be part of the FD team, and looks forward to combining her passion for the outdoors and her dedication to building high-impact healing programs for young adults with cancer.
Brad Ludden, Founder
Start Date: 2001
Brad was born in Wyoming and raised in Northwest Montana. He spent his days in the outdoors with his family hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing and, of course, kayaking. Of all his passions, kayaking caught his eye the most. His parents gave him his first kayak when he was 9 and at age 12 he was traveling and competing internationally. By 18 he had kayaking in over 20 countries and found his true passion within the sport, first descents. A first descent is the first time a person successfully kayaks a river or section of river that has never been done. Through his first descents he found immense challenge, adventure, community and personal growth.
Cancer went from being just some random word to something very personal when he was 12 and his Aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. After watching her endure cancer and seeing how little support there was available to her, Brad started volunteering for a local pediatric oncology program by teaching the participants how to kayak. He fell in love with it and decided it was time to do more so at 18, he started working on an organization that would soon become "First Descents". Its goal- to help young adults like his Aunt by giving them the life changing experience of kayaking. "I wanted to recreate the experience of a 'first descent', that had so greatly impacted my life, for people like my aunt who really needed it. Even though thousands of people have been down the rivers they're kayaking at camp, it's still the FIRST time they've been down it and that's the magic of FD!"
While Brad still kayaks and has some sponsors like Dagger, AT Paddles, Kokatat and Smith Optics, he focuses the majority of his time on helping FD grow to serve more young adults with cancer.