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In the summer of 2015, before his junior season as starting goalie for the men’s soccer team at Macalester College, Zeke Vainer joined three friends in Oxford, England, for what he called “the trip of a lifetime.’’

For the next 38 days, they participated in the Mongol Rally, driving 10,000 miles across Europe and Asia and through 21 countries, while raising $17,000 in pledges for Street Football World, which supports soccer initiatives worldwide.

“We gave out soccer balls and talked to young players throughout the trip,’’ recalled Vainer, a soccer and wrestling captain at Melrose High and an inductee last year to the school’s athletic hall of fame.

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“According to race rules,’’ Vainer said, “you had to buy a car that cost less than $1,000 and whose engine was under 1.2 liters, so we found a beat-up Suzuki wagon in England which we had to repair in about every country.’’

Vainer then flew from Ulaanbataar, Mongolia’s capital city where the race ended, to Germany, Iceland, and finally, back to the Macalester campus in St. Paul, arriving two days before the first soccer practice.

Vainer, whose 30 shutouts and 43 wins are program career records, wasn’t any the worse for wear.

He passed the preseason fitness test, and subsequently backstopped his team into the 2015 NCAA Division 3 tournament, shutting out visiting St. Scholastica College in the first round.

He also had a career 0.78 goals against average and 0.80 save percentage.

“Zeke had amazing shot-stopping ability and was fearless going through players to get the ball in the box,’’ recalled Macalester head coach Gregg Olson. “I’ve been a college coach for 18 years and Zeke is one of the most unique and amazing people I’ve been around.’’

He was a three-time Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Association All-Star.

An anthropology major, Vainer took courses at Buenos Aires University the spring of his junior year in 2016.

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“I’ve always taken life by the horns,’’ said Vainer, a three-time Jewish Sports Review College Soccer All-American who first played goalie as a 12-year-old with the Melrose travel team.

Now 25, he resides in Boston’s North End. Vainer is the outreach director at Panorama Education, which works with school districts nationwide to help educators use data to support their students.

Athletics, he said, “taught me that if you don’t put in the work, you’re hurting the team.’’


Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.