In 2019, Dartmouth alumni are answering The Call to Serve by contributing 250,000 hours of volunteer time in honor of the College’s 250th anniversary. We’re following alumni far and wide to find out how they’re making an impact, one hour at a time.
It was 5:45 a.m. when Lisa Caldeira ’07 noticed the first hints of a sunrise from her vantage point on the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
It had been a long night. She’d been climbing since 11 p.m. Rain had turned to snow, completely saturating four consecutive pairs of gloves, while frigid air numbed her face. When the sun began creeping over the horizon, Caldeira felt pure elation. “Not just because I was a bit warmer,” she says, “but also because for the first time I could see what I was doing—and it was out of this world.”
After a short stop to witness the sunrise, Caldeira and her team—a group hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to fundraise for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS)—followed the rim of a crater to the very top of Africa. “At the summit, there’s this peacefulness. It’s a very reflective time,” Caldeira recalls. “And it’s unbelievable being above the clouds.”
That overnight push was the culmination of an eight-day journey that brought the group through five ecosystems: from lush green rainforest filled with monkeys, to a white snowscape at 19,341 feet in altitude.
Kilimanjaro is a non-technical climb, and guides and porters helped the group—but hiking eight hours a day amidst the constant threat of altitude sickness was a rigorous undertaking. “It’s also a mental challenge,” Caldeira says. “On my hardest day I was thinking, what am I doing?”
Indeed, the Dartmouth alumna never intended to hike one of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each continent). “It was definitely not on my bucket list,” she says. In fact, her original plan was to do a half-marathon. The LLS organizes athletic fundraising events through its Team In Training program, and Caldeira—who now lives in Hanover and works for Dartmouth Alumni Relations—was hoping to participate in her second run.
But while researching races, she stumbled on information about a program called Climb 2 Cure, through which participants climb mountains to raise money. “I found it at a unique time in my life when I was looking to be a little more adventurous,” she says. So, she set a fundraising goal of $5,000, and she set her sights on Tanzania.
The funds she raised will help the LLS support research to cure blood cancer. Since Team In Training was founded in 1988, 650,000 participants have raised over $1 billion for the cause. With a group-oriented focus and a streamlined support system for athletes, Team In Training has become the world’s largest charity endurance training program. “I’ve really come to respect not just LLS, but also how Team In Training brings together strangers,” Caldeira says, citing the comradery she developed with teammates as one of the most unexpected rewards of the trip.
Caldeira’s excitement is palpable as she recalls the journey. “This has fed something in me I didn’t know existed,” she enthuses. Now, she’s set her sights on the rest of the Seven Summits. Most are tougher and more technical—but Caldeira is confident that climbing for a cause can expand the boundaries of what’s possible. “When you have a bigger goal, calling, or purpose for a hike,” she says, “it really does feed your desire to summit.”