For a guy who grew up in Fort Collins and had what most would consider to be an ordinary all-American childhood – playing football, basketball and hockey, and dreaming of someday being a fireman – Ryan Sutter’s life, these days, is far from ordinary.
Sutter graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Architecture, and soon discovered that his passion was not architecture but, rather, firefighting.
“I just went back to my roots. Doesn’t every little boy think about being a fireman?” jokes Sutter. “I began looking more and more into firefighting and my passion grew. It just kept sucking me in.”
So, 10 years ago, Sutter joined the Vail Fire Department, where he now is referred to as Lieutenant Sutter.
About that time, the first season of the reality show, The Bachelorette, was airing and Sutter was one of the young men chosen to compete to capture the heart of the program’s star, Trista Rehn. It didn’t take long before Rehn was smitten. Within a year, the couple was married and moved to Eagle County where they now live with their children, max, 5 and Blakesley, 3.
Thus ending Sutter’s once unassuming private life.
However, even without the notoriety, this extraordinary man would never have settled for a traditional life. Sutter is too altruistic.
It was a chance meeting with Brad Ludden, a professional kayaker and founder of First Descents, a Colorado-based nonprofit that focuses on outdoor adventure therapy for young adults with cancer, that provided the incentive for Sutter’s involvement with the group.
“Common interest and the mountain culture built our friendship,” Sutter wrote on his blog. “from the beginning I admired Brad’s zest for life and charitable personality. First Descents was a fledgling organization then and as our friendship grew, so did First Descents. At first, I watched, mostly from the sidelines. I followed the organization as it grew from a single adventure camp that served 14 participants to a well-respected charity that has now affected the lives of over hundreds of campers.”
It was after Sutter attended the 2008 First Descents’ Charity Ball and Fundraiser, that he decided he wanted to raise money for the group.
“Meeting some of the campers really hit home,” recalls Sutter. “I saw what people with cancer go through. And I could see myself in a lot of them. They were young adults, with cancer, with kids and they are trying to be working professionals and trying to be parents, husbands, wives, whatever.
“And it occurred to me that because of the cancer, they had to summon an inner strength – that I’m sure everyone has – but that most people don’t have to tap into. And that was a pivotal moment in my life. I wasn’t facing a life-or-death sentence, but it didn’t mean that I couldn’t tap into these inner strengths. Those people were an inspiration to me to give back and try to do some more good in my personal life.”
So to celebrate First Descents tenth year, Sutter’s goal was to get 10,000 people to donate $10 each and raise $100,000. To do that he had to participate in 10 different endurance races, in 10 different themes such as a marathon, a bike race and an Ironman competition, to name a few. It was titled the “10-10-10 Challenge.”
To put that in perspective,” explains Sutter, “that was a whole summer’s worth of events and campaigning for me.”
Initially, Sutter set out with the intent of pushing himself physically further than he had ever done. He was so focused on training and trying to do well, that he wasn’t “smelling the roses,” as he put it.
“It took my wife to open my eyes. Other things were dropping off the table because I was so focused on the physical challenge that I was ignoring my family,” remembers Sutter.
“So then it made me think. If you have cancer, you just can’t focus on the cancer. What’s the point? Then you don’t do anything else. So, I came ful circle and thought I’m just going to go out. I’m going to do well, but it’s not going to control my life.
“I got a new appreciation for all aspects of my life and still was able to push myself past physical limits.”
At his last event, the New York City Marathon, Sutter achieved more than his goal.
The final tally? $104,000
“Small occurrences and ordinary people are what have had the most influence on my life,” Sutter wrote in his blog.
“Intimate encounters have revealed the details of life’s balance. From the power and supprot I gained from my own family, to the inspiration of an organization, to the strength of a man and the precious life of a little girl, I ahve seen both rock and rain drop. I have bared witness to the tremendous force of life alonside it equally powerful fragility.
“It is for these reasons I live an inspired life, undeterred by challenge, appreciative of each day. It is for these reasons that I am part of Team First Descents.”