Mac Rand is about to embark on a spring break that he’ll never forget.
The Ridgefield Academy science teacher departs for Tanzania Friday, March 8, where he will spend a week climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training.
“There’s one woman who’s doing the climb with me who’s recovering from lymphoma,” said Rand, who’s closing in on $100,000 raised in the past 28 years. “Just being in her presence will be all the motivation I’ll need to keep moving forward.”
It will be the first of two “vacations” Rand will be taking in Tanzania.
Once he descends “Kili,” the Ironman triathlete plans to take one rest day before journeying to the village of Mungere where he will meet with local students and visit their school. That six-day trip includes a private-guided tour through Moshi in northern Tanzania, village tours in the Mto wa Mbu administrative ward in the Monduli district of the Arusha Region of Tanzania, and two days exploring Lake Manyara National Park.
“It’ll be an amazing spring vacation and then another amazing spring vacation,” said Rand, who turned 65 years old in January.
He was supposed to climb Kilimanjaro in March 2018 through Embark Exploration but had to postpone it due to ankle surgery in December 2017.
“I got lucky that the Embark folks were running the trip again this year and that Team in Training was still offering me the chance to fund-raise,” he said.
The delayed climb proved to be fortuitous for both Rand’s students in Ridgefield and students he’s yet to meet in Tanzania.
Through several conversations with Embark Exploration, he was able to connect with the Red Sweater Project, which has opened two secondary schools in rural areas of the country.
“The Red Sweater Project runs the Mungere School where I’ll be visiting on the back half of my journey,” Rand explained. “Thanks to my injury, I was able to get this chance to do some global education with Red Sweater, and that’s something Ridgefield Academy is strongly interested in. ... This doesn’t happen at the middle school level so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to make that connection.”
Ashley Holmer, founder of the Red Sweater Project, spoke to Ridgefield Academy students last spring.
“The kids were really engaged with her — they really wanted to know about what life was like over there,” Rand said.
“School ends for kids around the fifth grade in Tanzania, and that’s something Ashley and Red Sweater is trying to fix,” he added.
In the classrooms of Mungere, Rand will deliver books, school supplies, and letters written by Ridgefield Academy students.
He hopes to have the Tanzanian students write back.
“I want to get the ball rolling on building that connection between the two schools,” he said. “These are kids who have interests just like our kids. I want to show my students that it’s different over there but not that different. They have hopes and dreams and friends. ... I would love to come back with some notes for our kids but we’ll see.”
Rand also wants to call his students from Kilimanjaro.
“There are six different climbing zones in Kili so I want to be able to apply that in some of my lessons when I get back,” he said.
“While I’m there though, I’d love to just be able call them during school assembly and say hi from the mountain,” he added. “There’s an eight-hour time difference so we’ll have to time it up pretty well.”
Rand has been doing endurance events for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) since 1991.
He started with a 24-hour race in September 1991, when his brother Greg was near the losing end of his personal battle with leukemia.
“Greg was diagnosed in 1986 and died in February 1992,” Rand said. “Everything I’ve done since then has been in his memory ... He’s always been my inspiration.”
The list includes more than a dozen marathons, seven Ironmans, and another 24-hour race in 2016.
“To this day, I still say that that first 24-hour race was the most grueling,” Rand said. “I wasn’t prepared for it. I remember I wanted to reach 100 miles and started out so fast and burned myself out. I only got to 86 miles that day and barely made it across the finish line ... It was the longest, most painful night of my life.”
He raised $10,000 for LLS’s Team in Training during that first race in Queens, N.Y., and hasn’t stopped.
He completed his first Ironman for Team in Training in 2004 in Hawaii.
“The heat was brutal that day,” Rand said.
Ten years later, he finished back-to-back Ironmans in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I volunteered at the event the previous year and just kept thinking, ‘when you have cancer you don’t get to take the next day off,’ and that was my inspiration to attempt to do it twice in two days,” he said.
He worked with a coach to train for the dual Ironmans.
“She pushed me to my ceiling and got me in that mind-set of ‘you’re not racing,’ which helped me start slow on that first day,” Rand recalled. “I woke up to pounding rain on the second day and the temperatures in the low 50s but that didn’t slow me down. I felt reasonably good after doing that, which was surprising. I felt worse back in 1991 than I did after going back to back in 2004.”
He raised $30,000 for the back-to-back Ironman event.
“It really captured people’s mind,” he said. “Back-to-back Ironmans is so unusual — it got everyone’s attention.”
Rand would complete one more Ironman in 2015 and another 24-hour marathon race in 2016 — both in Lake Placid — before concluding his heart wasn’t in racing anymore.
“My students came and cheered me on during that last 24-hour race, which I did at the Olympic Speedskating Oval,” he said. “I ended up running 101 miles that day and we raised $8,000.”
It was the end of the summer in 2016 when a job opened up at Ridgefield Academy and Rand decided to move back to Connecticut.
“It was really perfect timing and the perfect opportunity for me to get back to teaching full time at an independent school,” said Rand.
“I have a brother in Darien and a son in Stamford so it was nice to come back to this area.”
A love for the outdoors has always been at the center of Rand’s spirit.
He spent his summers as a kid at a summer camp in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.
“We used to canoe from lake to lake, and that’s where I first became outdoors oriented,” he said. “I learned to push myself there ... It gave me confidence.”
What started as a summer pilgrimage as an adolescent blossomed into a job as a teenager. It then became a full-time business for Rand who bought the camp as an adult in 1983.
“I ended up spending 30 years at summer camp,” he joked.
“I ended up visiting three times last summer— it’s still very much my home,” he added. “The experiences I learned up there I still carry with me today.”
Despite growing up in the forest and around the lakes, Rand first started climbing mountains when he lived in Lake Placid.
“They have mountains that range up to 5,000 feet up there — that’s the highest I’ve ever climbed,” he said. “I got hooked on hiking pretty fast while living up there. The Adirondacks are just so beautiful.”
The journey to Kilimanjaro has been on his mind since the 1980s — before his brother’s diagnosis.
“Going to Africa has always been in the back of my mind,” he said. “The wildlife there is so much different. I hope to do some sightseeing while I’m there — see some giraffes, some hippos.”
The biggest challenge of training for the climb is the altitude.
“You can’t prepare for it while you’re here,” Rand said. “Because of the altitude, you have to go slowly up the mountain — uncomfortably slow, which goes against my nature a bit as a racer.”
If there is an advantage for the marathoner, it’s that Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb.
“The last couple of days we’ll be waking in the middle of the night, with the goal of hitting the peak as the sun rises,” he said. “Then you head back down quickly. It’s about six and a half days up and a day and a half to get down.”
He won’t be the only Rand climbing Kilimanjaro.
“There’s eight of us going, all in our 50s and 60s,” he said. “One of them is a Lisa Rand of Pittsburgh, no relation.”
Mac Rand, who is calling the Kilimanjaro climb his “last blast for Greg,” said it was never his goal to reach $100,000 in fund raising.
“My energy would just go right into the next event and I just kept doing it,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t do anything to bring Greg back but I knew that I didn’t want others to go through what happened to him.”
For those looking to donate, Rand suggests visiting his Team in Training page at pages.teamintraining.org/ctwhv/kili030919/MRand.
“Fund raising is a huge part of why I continued to do these events, but I also enjoyed the challenge of it,” he said. “But I think the main reason I kept coming back to it is because it gives me a chance to stay connected with Greg ...
“He had this joy of life and this big laugh. He was friendly and outgoing and, just when he had figured life out, the doctors told him he only had five years left and that proved to be pretty accurate ... He was only 43 years old when he died and that’s not OK ... Luckily, they’ve been able to make a lot of great advancements, and I’d like to think the $1.5 billion that Team in Training has raised and given to research has played a role in that...
“I just miss him so much,” Rand added. “I’m thinking about him when I’m out there. I’m thinking about all the donors — I carry their names with me, even in my wetsuit. I’ll carry them with me during my climb, too, and will be thinking of them when I reach the summit.”
Rand also encouraged that donations be made to Red Sweater Project at redsweaterproject.org by clicking “donate” at the top right of the home page.
“Red Sweater Project exposes kids to the world and have them see the bigger picture,” he said. “I’m so fortunate to be able to do this and to have the support of Ridgefield Academy.
“This is the most foreign place I’ve ever been, and I think there’s a really good opportunity to make a strong, meaningful connection between the two schools,” he added. “I don’t want this to be a one-shot deal.”