Room to Read donors often come up with the most creative ways to raise money to support our work. Last December, Frank Rohde, CEO of a software company in San Francisco, ran a marathon in Antarctica to raise money for Room to Read. In this guest blog, he shares his impressions and experiences of this breathtaking trip.
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When the Russian cargo plane touched down on the blue-ice glacier near the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica, I knew that this adventure was getting serious. After having waited six days on the southern tip of Chile for weather clear enough to fly across the Drake Passage, the group of 37 runners I had joined on this trip finally got the “all clear” to take off. The flight from Chile to Antarctica took only four hours but it was four hours into an expanse that defies description. Larger than all of Europe, colder than any other place on earth, windswept and desolate—but with 24 hours of daylight. No one really knew what to expect, so when the doors of the plane opened and the stepladder was put onto the ice, my breath was taken away—by the biting cold as well as the magnificent views. I stepped onto the ice filled with excitement about the next four days in Antarctica.
The reason I was here was to compete in a marathon—or at least to reach the finish line—and in the process raise enough money to build a Room to Read library in South Africa. I’ve been a runner since I was a teenager and I complete at least one marathon every year. Last year I came across the Ice Marathon in Antarctica organized every year by a guy in Ireland named Richard Donovan. So I thought: here is an opportunity that allows me to combine a visit to the interior of Antarctica with camping on ice for a week and a real physical challenge!
After I signed up, I told a couple of friends and colleagues about my plans and got the same reaction from all of them: “You’re nuts!” I soon realized that this adventure was outrageous enough that I could use it as a charity fundraising vehicle, and remembered Room to Read from an article I had read in the Financial Times a year earlier. If I could raise $1000 for every mile in my marathon, that would cover the cost of a library. I spend a lot of time in South Africa every year for business and have grown very fond of the people there and decided to support a library project near Dutywa in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.
In addition to running, one of the things I’ve been doing religiously for almost 20 years is reading at least one book every week. I’ve always had an affinity for books and actually bought an old shipping container to store my own library! Of course I had brought a bunch of books on the trip to Antarctica, but now that I was here I forgot all about reading—this place was too exciting.
We spent the first day in Antarctica acclimatizing and on the morning of day two, we learned that because of the strong winds, the marathon was postponed one day. So, we filled the hours by sharing our own personal stories, and I learned that almost everyone was also raising money for a charity.
My fundraising strategy had focused on two groups: corporate donors and individuals. I had asked each of our clients to donate to Room to Read in return for branding and exposure during my run (their logos were on the running shirt I wore), and raised about $20k from institutions like Nedbank, ABSA, Bain Capital, Red Rock Ventures, Kobold Watch Company, and Silicon Valley Bank. I raised the rest of the donations from friends, colleagues, family, and other individuals. The day before the marathon, I had met my goal of $26,200 and with several donations from fellow runners and others, I ended up raising over $30,000 by the time I returned from my trip.
The marathon start was set for day three at 11am, and there was lots of excitement and several photo shoots that morning. Several of the stronger runners took off right away, while I fell into a comfortable trot towards the back of the pack. My goal was to reach the finish line and leave the winning to someone else. For the first two hours of the run, the weather was overcast and cold, but not too windy. The only challenge was staying close to the orange flags that had been planted in the ground every 50 meters because the visibility was pretty poor. After about 10 miles, the weather cleared up and we had blue skies and bright sun. As the sun warmed the snow, the running became tougher, and my feet kept slipping and sliding—but I surprised myself by finishing in five hours and 34 minutes and coming in 11th!
I know I wasn’t the only one who was proud of having achieved a physical challenge that day. But what I am most excited about is that I was able to use my own, somewhat selfish pursuit to help Room to Read build a new library for the school children in Dutywa. And now, on to the North Pole Marathon…
Frank's campaign has raised over $30,500 and is still accepting donations on our website. Not everyone can run a marathon, but there are many ways you can set up your own fundraising campaign and get involved.