Performance Tours Rafting in Breckenridge records virtual whitewater trip for client with cancer |

Performance Tours Rafting in Breckenridge records virtual whitewater trip for client with cancer

Co-owner Mary Jo Foley, a cancer survivor herself, said she and her family felt pulled to help

The Foleys and the Majors live on nearly opposite sides of the country. Before August, the two families had never met, and in another world, their paths likely wouldn’t have crossed. But the two families — one of which lives in Breckenridge and the other in Binghamton, New York — now have a bond to last a lifetime.

Mary Jo Foley, co-owner of Performance Tours Rafting in Breckenridge, received an email from Binghamton resident Christine Major in August. The heartfelt email read that Major’s father-in-law, Dr. Leslie “Lester” Major, was fighting pancreatic cancer and that she wondered whether it was possible to record a raft trip to show him during his final days. Lester and his son Nate — who is Major’s husband — had talked about planning a whitewater rafting trip for years. But when Lester was diagnosed, the pandemic hit soon after, and their chance to experience the trip together seemed to fade.

Major decided to take matters into her own hands and began researching organizations that offered guided whitewater raft trips in hopes that one of them would record a virtual trip for Lester. She had never been to Colorado before, but she knew she wanted to reach out to a smaller, family-run company, which is how she found Performance Tours Rafting in Breckenridge.

“I was just doing research when I stumbled upon their website and read a little bit about them, and I just said, ‘I’m going to send them an email,’” Major said. “I did, and they immediately got back to me.”

When Foley received the email, she felt drawn to Major’s cause. Foley had endured her own lymphatic cancer diagnosis in spring 2019. Now in remission, Foley felt pulled to help the Major family.

“My heart hurt for the Major family when I received the email from Christine,” Foley said. “I knew if there was anything I could do to help ease the pain for a cancer patient, then I would do whatever I could for them.”

Performance Tours Rafting is a family-run business that has been in operation since 1986. The company is owned by Foley and her husband, Kevin. Their two kids, Kathryn and Dan, also work for the company.

In the past couple of years, the Foley family has gotten to know all too well how cancer can disrupt lives.

“My family has been experiencing the frightening diagnosis of cancer for the past 2 1/2 years in multiple ways,” Foley said. “My mother passed away from cancer, I was diagnosed with cancer, my brother-in-law, Greg, in Idaho, and my son’s father-in-law, Mike, in Dillon have all battled cancer within that time period.”

Their personal experiences created an emotional bond with the Major family. Even though 1,700 miles separated them, the Foley family decided to collaborate with their staff to fulfill the last wishes of Lester.

Within a week or so of Major’s email, the Foley family recruited the help of their veteran whitewater raft guide PJ Markow, who strapped a GoPro to his helmet, taped a photo of Lester to a paddle and set off down the Arkansas River. He paddled the company’s most popular stretch, which passes by Browns Canyon National Monument.

Along the way, Markow spoke to the camera and the photo of Lester about some of the local geological features, explained rafting terms and described each approaching rapid. The entire trip lasted nearly a full day, and the office staff paired it down into an hourlong recording.

The gift was donated to the Major family. The night before Lester died, Nate showed him the video, and the two finally got to experience their whitewater trip together. Lester died Sept. 5. At his funeral days later, the Major family displayed a photo of Markow on the river with the paddle that had Lester’s picture on it.

Major said the gesture from the Foley family was so thoughtful that there are hardly words to explain what it meant to all of them.

“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Major said. “It was just such a special experience. The whole start to finish, how wonderful the Foley family was. You don’t see that that much anymore, especially during such a stressful time such as COVID, and I am still just absolutely amazed that they did this. It is something that will stay with our family for a very long time.”

For the Foley family, the gift was a small token of understanding and kindness. Foley said she hopes the gesture is a reminder to others that small acts can go a long way.

“I hope this virtual rafting trip brings awareness that people can help people, even if they live thousands of miles away,” Foley said. “Kindness does matter.”

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