First Descents: “Out Living It”

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FD LT100 Team Photo

Ryan O’Donoghue: Brother’s Inspiration Fuels Personal Mission

Bay Village native Ryan O’Donoghue lost his brother, Colin, to cancer in 2005 at age 28. Ever since, Ryan has committed his life to fighting the disease in honor of his brother’s memory.

Ryan is now Executive Director of a charitable organization called First Descents, a group that offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them. They climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.

FD LT100 Columbine to Twin Lakes

“Nine years ago on August 1, my brother Colin passed away after a difficult battle with cancer. He was my mentor and best friend. Through this experience with Colin, my life took on a new purpose — to support young adults with cancer,” reports Ryan. “It ultimately led me to my new role as Executive Director at First Descents (FD). FD offers free outdoor adventure programs to young adults affected by cancer. I cannot personally describe the life-changing nature of our work. One of our participants said it best, ‘Doctors and medicine kept me alive, but First Descents showed me how to live again.’”

On August 9, Ryan (Bay High ‘97) honored Colin (Bay High ‘95) and supported FD by taking on the greatest physical endurance challenge of his life – the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race in Colorado.

Ryan’s personal effort raised more than $15,000 for First Descents programs. His team topped its goal of $130,000.

“I’m not sure I would have been successful in this endeavor without the support of so many friends – it was a beast!” said Ryan.

“I could go into great detail about the challenges of this race. Instead I’ll just say this – at mile 80, it was time to truly dig deep,” he said. “I was running on empty, my stomach didn’t feel right, an old knee injury was flaring up, my bike gears were creating added frustration, and I was approaching “heartbreak hill”, an area known as ‘Powerline!’ My body was receiving countless physical signals that screamed “give up!”


“Thankfully,” he reports, “with a bit of mental toughness and the support from donors, I was able to persevere.”

“In a very small way, it was symbolic of the cancer journey many young adults experience,” says Ryan. He finished in 11 hours, 8 minutes, and 23 seconds. “And yes, it is necessary mention those 23 seconds!” he laughs.

The ride was a testament to Colin’s enduring inspiration as he battled cancer.

“Throughout his 28 years, Colin impressed upon everyone a personality so humble, hilarious, loving and genuine that everyone invariably grew to love him,” said Ryan. “Those who came to Colin’s side intent on helping him found another scenario unfolding. They found that Colin was actually helping them.”

Cancer claimed Colin’s life when he was just 28. But Colin soundly beat cancer in his own way: By imparting his unwavering spirit on to his loved ones and living on through the collective memory of his family and friends.


That is why Ryan is now dedicated to helping others through First Descents.

You can help him reach his new fundraising goal of $25,000 – the average cost of a week-long FD program.

‘Together, we can make a difference and empower 15 young adults living with cancer through a life-changing adventure program,” says Ryan.

Please visit to learn more.



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