For Jim Mora, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was the easy part. It was everything else involving his six-day, 50-mile trek up the world’s highest free-standing mountain that was so overwhelming.
The UCLA head coach was part of “Conquering Kili,” a mission created by NFL star Chris Long’s Waterboys foundation to raise money to build clean water wells in East Africa. Each year, this mission includes military combat veterans and former NFL players. This year, the group consisted of 14 members, and at 55, Mora was the oldest one.
He ended up on the trip thanks to his college buddy Mark Pattison, a former Saints wideout trying to become the first NFL player to climb the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each continent). Pattison suggested Mora to former Green Beret and ex-Seattle Seahawks long snapper Nate Boyer, who works with Waterboys. Mora later said yes when his pal told him about the idea, even though the coach was the middle of recruiting and trying to hire some new staffers. Mora admits he didn’t quite grasp the mission and what he was getting involved with until he watched a video about Long’s charity.
Truth be told, Mora truly didn’t get it until his first day in Africa, when he was in the Serengeti, met the people and visited one of the water well sites.
“Water is something that’s a lot more than just something to drink,” he says. “It’s life. It’s cooking. It’s cleaning. It’s bathing. It’s also the ability for kids to stay in school rather than spending a big part of their day trying to find water for their families.”
Those trips to find water bring other detriments too. Spending so much time fetching water can affect educational opportunities, UNICEF says. The absence of clean water helps diseases flourish. Young girls are also at risk of being sexually assaulted on their journeys.
“If you have any type of empathy for people, you just think, ‘This isn’t right,’” Mora says, “no matter what the culture, no matte
Mora kept a journal on the trip. He said the experience has reminded him to be patient, calling it perspective-changing.
“We live in a bubble and we’re so entitled,” he says. “I coach a lot of young men who come from really disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet in comparison to what these people have, I don’t have one kid who comes from a ‘disadvantaged background.’ They have challenges. But no matter how disadvantaged we think we are, we’re not.”