- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tedy Bruschi started his training for Mount Kilimanjaro by working out on the stair-climber and treadmill in his hiking boots.

The retired New England Patriots star linebacker, ex-Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Chad Lewis will take on Africa’s highest mountain next week. They’ll be joined by four injured service members to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“I’ve never done anything _ and I mean anything _ remotely like this,” Bruschi said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

The goal is to summit the more than 19,000 feet of Kilimanjaro from May 13-19 after a day of acclimatization in Tanzania.

The closest comparison for Fisher is he ran a marathon in 2003. Bruschi was such a novice he didn’t even know what to do with all the straps on the pack sent to him by sponsor Under Armour. He started his hiking with his wife in the Blue Hills outside Boston _ top elevation 635 feet _ wearing a weighted vest.

He’d go to a nearby high school and run on the track and up the bleachers wearing the boots and that vest. From the NFL draft, Bruschi had to call his wife to ask her to buy him some trekking poles.

Bruschi got some more serious training on the peaks of New Hampshire. His guides were longtime friend Randy “Zip” Pierce, a fervent Patriots fan who’s an accomplished hiker despite being blind, and Pierce’s guide dog.

Fisher has been cross-training _ biking and running as well as hiking. He went to Colorado last weekend.

“It’s better than just staying in Nashville and running the same hills,” he said.

There’s gear strewn all over his house now as he figures out what to squeeze into a 35-pound duffel bag.

When they first heard about his plans, Fisher’s kids said, “You’ve got some work to do, Dad.” Some of his former colleagues with the Titans “thought I was crazy.”

Fisher took part in an NFL coaches USO tour to Iraq two years ago. Bruschi had been disappointed he couldn’t participate in a USO tour to Afghanistan and told league officials to keep him in mind for future projects. When he got the call a few months ago, “it was just something I couldn’t pass up.”

Said Fisher, “How can you say no?”

Current employer ESPN gave Bruschi the time off, and he started to do his research into mountain climbing.

He’s learned that the altitude affects each person differently, so there’s no way to predict whether his group will reach the summit.

“You’ve just got to put your head down and be determined to make it to the summit,” Fisher said.

The NFL contingent will be joined by Bryan Wagner of Exeter, Calif., and Ben Lunak of Grand Forks, N.D., who each lost a leg; Mike Wilson of Annapolis, Md., who struggles with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury; and Nancy Schiliro of Hartsdale, N.Y., who lost an eye.

The group will meet in New York on Monday to visit ground zero.

The 37-year-old Bruschi spent 13 seasons with the Patriots, winning three Super Bowls, before retiring in 2009. Days after playing in his only Pro Bowl in 2005, he suffered a mild stroke, but recovered to play the next season.

The 53-year-old Fisher parted ways with the Titans in January after 16 full seasons, going 147-126 and taking Tennessee to its lone Super Bowl appearance.

The 39-year-old Lewis played nine seasons with the Eagles and St. Louis Rams. He had at least 41 catches for three straight years from 2000-02.

Bruschi is already beginning to understand how people get hooked on hiking. The big climb hasn’t even started, and Bruschi suspects it might be the first of many mountains for him.

“I got in touch with some of my friends,” he said, “and said I may be close to getting addicted to this.”

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