Superfan alum showcases his loyalty abroad

Vinaya Sharma is among several alumni traveling to Tanzania to watch Drake’s football team compete in the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl

Vinaya Sharma, BN’93, is no fair-weather fan. The Drake University actuarial science alumnus — known during his college days as the guy who wore a Darth Vader mask to athletic events — has a seemingly limitless passion for his alma mater. Sharma once flew across multiple time zones to see the Bulldog basketball team compete in the NCAA tournament (he was on a business trip abroad when the team made it to the big dance in 2008). His home features a “fan cave” room to display his Drake and Hinsdale Central High School swag. He also hosts an annual Relays party for other Chicagoland alumni and was once featured in a USA TODAY story decked out in Drake gear — all in the name of showcasing his University pride.

When asked what he wouldn’t do for good old DU, Sharma was stumped.

“I think the facts bear out that I will go to some extremes that maybe others won’t,” Sharma says of his superfan status. “Especially when it comes to my schools, I’m a very loyal individual to those that have been good to me.”

A Fan’s Super Trip

This month, Sharma’s fanaticism will reach new heights as he travels to Tanzania to watch Drake’s football team take on Mexico’s CONADEIP All-Stars in the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl on May 21. The game will be the first collegiate game of American football on African soil.

“I tend to follow my teams to the end of the earth,” Sharma says. “I thought that [going to see the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl] would be a pretty neat experience to support my school. I know a couple of players on the team.”

Sharma’s work schedule didn’t fit with the team’s timetable, so he and fellow alumnus Rich Jablonowski, BN’99, plan to climb Kilimanjaro before the game, perhaps planting a Drake flag to greet Drake’s official contingent at the summit.

As part of their training for the trip, Jablonowski put his friend through a series of physical challenges, including a grueling kayak excursion after attending distinctlyDrake Naples and a Shamrock Shuffle road race in the Chicago area.

“He’s passed every test that I’ve presented to him and I’m comfortable going with him — at the moment,” Jablonowski says, joking that, although Sharma should have the stamina and mental strength for the trek, he’s a little bit worried that the Chicagoan didn’t own a proper winter coat before gearing up for the 19,000-foot trek.

“The only thing we have to worry about with him is the cold weather,” Jablonowski says. “Vinaya flies down to Florida during the winter.”

Jablonowski is looking forward to connecting with other alumni after the game, too. He extended his trip to also participate in volunteer service efforts and a photo safari with others from Drake.

Drake Ambassador

Alumni involvement in the Global Kilimanjaro Bowl is an important aspect of the event. An alumni presence at Drake’s ultimate away game not only shows solidarity for the team, but also is a prime example of how continuing one’s connection to the University opens up unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

“We’re lucky to have passionate alumni like Vinaya who take advantage of and
create new Drake experiences after graduation,” says Blake Campbell, GR’05, director of Drake’s Office of Alumni and Parent Relations. “They’re the best kind of
ambassadors for the University, because they truly live out the mission and,
through their enthusiastic support, strengthen the Drake community.”

Sharma, a 2007 recipient of the Young Alumni Loyalty Award, says he is willing to brave the elements for such a special alumni opportunity, but he has no plans to pose as his Star Wars alter ego on the summit.

“I’m going to have enough trouble with oxygen as it is,” Sharma says. “Although with the high altitude, I’ll probably sound like Darth Vader even without the mask.”

— Brianne Sanchez

Update: Sharma and Jablonowski submitted a photo from their summit. Congratulations on the climb!

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