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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today the orphanage, tomorrow the mountain.

We spent today at Bridges Kindergarten and Primary school, helping to build a new classroom. Other “squads” from the Mexican and American teams were there yesterday and laid three rows of large bricks on the foundation (the building is about 20 by 40 feet). Today, our squad laid the next six rows of brick. We had to stop because we'd reached the tops of the windows and door, and the wood for framing them hadn't arrived yet.

We're all covered in dirt, dust and bits of cement — a perfect day. It is an incredible feeling to come together — Mexicans, Tanzanians and Americans — and make a building rise out of the dirt. I wish that we could have finished it, but everyone is clearly very grateful for what we were able to do.

We took a 45 minute break to spend time with the children (ages 3-5). They sang wonderful songs that were a combination of English lesson and exercise. Then chaos took the place of order and everyone was running around kicking soccer balls, demanding rides on shoulders. It's hard to tell whose smiles were bigger — theirs or ours.

Tomorrow we begin the climb. We have a “mountain meeting” tonight to go over the plan and to hear from Dr. Freer about altitude issues and adaptation.

Freer is a physician who is considered one of the leading experts on high altitude performance, and she works frequently on Mt. Everest. We will climb in groups of 16. I've already been told that Coach Creighton has assigned my sons, Justin and Steve, and me to Dr. Freer’s group — along with Coach Fox and 10 to 11 players. I asked coach if I should take the fact that Dr. Freer is assigned to my group as a sign of respect or a sign of grave concern.

He just smiled.

Everyone is anticipating the climb with a healthy mix of eagerness and apprehension. Everyone is fit enough to climb an almost 4-mile high mountain (even me), but altitude tolerance is a complete unknown for everyone. Even if you climbed Kili a month ago and felt fine, you might not make it the next time. There are a lot of variables, and hardly any of them are under your control. I can't wait to see the view from the top.

I plan to continue blogging on the climb. There is supposedly cell coverage on Kili (both an advantage and a little bit of a disappointment — I guess there are few places left in the world!). I’m hoping that my iPad battery lasts long enough, and that the solar charger that I imported from England to strap on the outside of my backpack will actually work. We will all find out.

Here we go...

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