A 60-something year-old University President from Iowa heading to Tanzania to attempt to climb 19,340 feet to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro?

That's me. David Maxwell, president of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

I will be accompanying members of the Drake University Football Team to Tanzania as part of the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl — the first collegiate game of American football to be played on the African continent.

As part of this experience we will engage in service projects — including building a wing on an orphanage for children of AIDS victims, building housing for teachers at a school outside of Moshi, clearing land for school playgrounds, and working with a local organization that serves orphaned street children.

We will cap the trip with a trip to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro with our partners (and competitors) the CONADEIP All-Stars from Mexico.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Becoming the Mountain

More than halfway to Tanzania — five hours to go before we land. The CONADEIP all-stars joined us in Amsterdam, as did our players who flew from Minneapolis. Both teams immediately introduced themselves and started chatting — their worlds are expanding already.

Everyone who talks to us on the journey is amazed at the magnitude of what we're doing. They've never heard of anything like it — with good reason since there never has been anything like it — and they are extremely impressed with the trip’s purpose. Members of the flight crew on this plane are going to try to drive to Arusha tomorrow to watch the sports clinics!

At Schipol Airport, one of the players confided to me what I knew already, but it was so good to hear it coming from him. He said, "You know, we're all really excited about the game on Saturday, and we're competitive and want to win, but that's not really what this is all about, you know? It's just a small, important part of a very big thing."

It occurred to me in my jet-lagged state that this trip has an interesting conceptual polarity. There's the aggressive, competitive pole — we're playing a milestone game and we want to win; we want to conquer a mountain. At the other end, there's the engaged, accepting pole: we are engaged in service, along side our competitors; we are learning about the “other.”

For months as I’ve trained for the climb, I’ve seen the mountain as a part of the competition — I've been steeling myself to conquer the mountain, to defeat it and proclaim victory at the top (assuming that I'll have enough breath to proclaim anything). But as I near Tanzania and the mountain, it has dawned on me (belatedly, but better late...) that I’ve been foolish. I will never "defeat" Mt. Kilimanjaro — it will be there long, long after all of us, unchanged (except for the disappearing snow, thanks to global warming) awaiting all those who dare to challenge it.

Rather than seeing the mountain as an obstacle to be defeated, I have to find a way to become part of the mountain’s being for six days, to show it its due respect, to find a way for it to accept me, to allow me to reach its summit and see the sun rise over the crater. Ultimately, it becomes a symbol for everything we will do in Tanzania — we must become an unobtrusive, welcome and respectful part of the whole that is already here, and we'll see the sun rise every day.


  1. Best of luck!! Great way to put it - we have to be part of the mountain and give it its due respect!!

    Karibuni Tanzania!

  2. Alright, so after reading the blog, I am even more [serenely] impatient to get there. Thursday take your time but hurry up!