It was the first day of high school and freshman Clark Doerr sat in his first hour World Geography class. He was looking at his teacher Lindsey Haymond when a sudden realization sweeps over him: he had seen her before. His blond, five foot eight teacher is instantly transported to the middle of the Sahara, trekking up a sand dune the size of around five football fields.
“She told us she was kind of like a celebrity,” Doerr said. “And I was like ‘you were on “Expedition Impossible” on ABC! Team Kansas, right?’”
Haymond and her two sisters, Kelsey and Mackenzie Fuller, are Overland Park natives.
“When people look at me and my sisters, probably the last thing they would describe us as is ‘outdoorsy,’” Haymond said.
But her students will tell you that Haymond overcame that stereotype when she competed with her sisters Kelsey and Mackenzie Fuller against twelve other trios for a grand prize of $150,000 and three Ford Explorers on ABC’s “Expedition Impossible: Morocco.”
Haymond stumbled across the post advertising tryouts for the new reality show on ABC, prompting Haymond to send in an email describing why she and her sisters would be prime candidates for the show. Several phone interviews and an audition video later, Haymond was invited to fly to L.A. for four days for fitness and psychological tests for the show.
“It was fabulous,” Haymond said. “We went because it was a free trip to L.A., even though we still didn’t think we were going to get on the show.”
After a series of tests, the producers treated the Haymond sisters to a surprise: they had made it.
To be ready for the rigorous nature of the show, Haymond and her sisters were required to complete horse training, rowing training and were expected to be in peak physical condition. She woke up early and swam laps for at least an hour every day before her teaching job. After school, she would run around three miles and then go hike for several miles. She’d climb at a climbing gym twice a week, and on Sundays she rode horses for a couple hours. To prepare for the required 50-60 pounds she would have to carry in her backpack on her trip, Haymond even resorted to putting bricks in a backpack when she went on hikes in the nearby Sam Houston National Forest.
After months of training, Haymond took a “mysterious” leave of absence from her teaching job, during which time she went to film the show. Rumors began to fly like crazy. Her students back in Houston worried that she up and left them to go live in Kansas again, while others thought she went and joined the circus.
“I couldn’t tell my students anything, I just kind of left one day,” Haymond said. “When I came back, there were bruises all over my body. The people in my aerobics class were extremely concerned, and were coming up to me like ‘Is everything alright at home? Is everything ok with your husband? Do we need to get you some help?’ It was really funny because I still couldn’t tell them what was going on other than that ever.”
The training paid off because it prepared them for the extreme conditions of the first stage of the competition, during which Team Kansas had to climb for two and a half hours to the peak of a “mountain of sand” in the 105 degree heat of the Sahara, their feet sinking in the blistering sand with every step.
“You couldn’t stop and shake the sand out of your shoe or you would never finish the challenge,” Haymond said. “I had several toenails fall off just from that. Several people threw up just on the journey up. I could have hiked for years and still wouldn’t have been prepared for that climb. I just kept thinking ‘If this is only the first trial on the first day, how am I going to finish this competition?’”
From the outpost, the team had to coax a train of three stubborn camels for ten miles before reaching another mountain. They then climbed 30 stories to repel straight down the other side of the cliff. Haymond said this was one of the coolest parts of the expedition, even though it started as one of the scariest.
“You dangled over the side of a cliff, and you had to step over the side and lower yourself down,” Haymond said. “My sisters and I went down from youngest to oldest, so there was no one up there for encouragement when it was my turn to go down. But after I got over the initial shock, it was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had.”
The challenges in the following days proved just as strenuous. By day four, Haymond and her sisters were incredibly banged up. Haymond had sustained heavy bruising to her ribs after being bucked off of and stepped on by a camel, the footage of which made the commercial for the episode. Mackenzie, who hadn’t wore socks with her watershoes, had blisters that were “gushing blood” by the time they reached camp.
Contrary to Haymond’s initial belief that they would recover each night in a hotel, the expedition was shot day by day, with only one break day for scenic filming. This, plus the added discomfort of spending every night in an open-sided tent through which sand constantly blew created what was “the hardest thing Haymond had ever done in her whole life” that much worse. One night even brought snow to the camp, much to the surprise of Haymond, who had originally thought that they would sleep in hotels between stages of the competition.
“The fifth day was rough,” Haymond said. “We hadn’t slept that night because it snowed, and we hadn’t eaten because the locals had brought in a goat and roasted it, which did not agree with me.”
Even though “Team Kansas” only lasted until the fourth episode, Haymond still remembers the experience as an extraordinary one. She takes pride in that fact that her all-girl team consistently performed on par with a team of fully-grown, professional football players, saying that the experience was “one of the best moments of her whole life.”
“We still keep in contact with people from the show, especially with the ‘Fab 3’ and we recently went to the wedding of a member from No Limits,” Haymond said. “We have a special group on Facebook that we use a lot. It’s good because no one else really knows what we’ve been through. They can watch it on TV but they won’t really know.”
Doerr said that Haymond’s insight into geography from her experience with “Expedition Impossible” made him especially excited to return to class the next day. He says that her anecdotes have been especially relevant to their current topic: Africa.
“Being able to apply what I had experienced in class not only makes the subject matter more interesting to the students, but it also gives them a connection to what they’re learning,” Haymond said. “Being able to make that connection was really special.”