RIDGEFIELD — Mac Rand is about to embark on a spring break that he’ll never forget.
The Ridgefield Academy science teacher departs for Tanzania Friday, 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 for the society 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.
“It’ll be an amazing spring vacation and then another amazing spring vacation,” said Rand, who turned 65 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.
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 said. “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.”
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. 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 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.”
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, a Greenwich native who taught middle school science at Brunswick School before becoming a full-time substitute teacher in the public school district when he lived in Lake Placid.
Despite growing up in the forest and around the lakes, Rand first started climbing mountains when he lived in Lake Placid. 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.”
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. 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 said. “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.”
For those looking to donate, Rand’s Team in Training page can be found at pages.teamintraining.org/ctwhv/kili030919 /MRand.