Training for Kilimanjaro

Credit Chicago Athlete

Credit Chicago Athlete

Howard Zavell had long wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, bur he got busy instead with raising a family. As his sons got older, he began to dream of climbing the mountain with them. At first, his wife, Anne, had some legitimate concerns about her husband raking their sons halfway around the world to climb an almost four mile tall mountain in Africa. At the time, Benjamin was only 11 and Max was 13. Bur after learning more about it, both agreed that it would be a tremendous opportunity for them.

At first the boys had some reservations about the challenge. Max had recently heard a story about a climbing disaster on Mount Everest and was apprehensive about the risks. Although both boys were active in sports and Boy Scours, they wanted to know more about the climb before they committed.

Howard called on a trusted former gymnastics coach, Seymour Rifkind, for help with the decision. Rifkind had climbed Kilimanjaro twenty years earlier. He met with the boys and evaluated their readiness for facing the challenges of climbing the 19,341-foor mountain. After hearing about their extensive experiences with camping, Boy Scouts and sports, he agreed that they were ready. He explained that unlike Everest, climbing Kilimanjaro was non-technical-much like a very long trail hike at altitude. It was August 2011, and the boys were now enthusiastic about taking on the Kilimanjaro challenge.

Then, they began a year and a half of hard work. Both , the boys and their dad had to get in the best shape of their lives. They starred with a strength and conditioning program. Then they found an area of steep wooded bluffs and ravines in Lake Forest lined with trails and stairways. At first, they would walk up and down the stairs a few times. After a while, they were able to run up the stairs. Gradually, they became fit enough to run up and down the stairs and hills with backpacks for a sustained period of time. They also incorporated longer hikes with packs as part of the training.

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“The boys are both in really great shape,” Howard says. “I had more work to do to get as fit as they did.” Both boys play soccer, Max is a sprinter and Ben is learning to be a slider in luge and has been invited to Lake Placid to participate in a USA luge training camp this winter.

“I see the focus in their eyes,” Howard says. “They are enjoying this because we are doing it together. They are confident and sure of themselves. The boys have learned the value of setting high goals and working hard for a long time to achieve them.” Along the way, the Zavells are strengthening family bonds.

Max is now 15 and is a freshman at Highland Park High School. Benjamin is 12 and a seventh grader at Northwood Junior High School. They are scheduled to begin climbing on Dec. 18. They will be on the mountain for nine days and will hike roughly 65 miles. You can follow their climb at and learn more about their fundraising effort for MDA, Magen David Adorn, a non-partisan emergency service for injured in Israel.

Chicago Athlete: Chris Palmquist January 2013


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