ESPN NFL analyst and three-time Super Bowl champion Tedy Bruschi is traveling to Tanzania, Africa next week with former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis and four injured service members on an NFL-sponsored climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors. Bruschi discusses having the rare opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and the fourth highest peak in the world.
FR: How did this opportunity come about?
Bruschi: I was originally asked to go on the NFL’s USO Tour to Afghanistan earlier this year. It didn’t work out so I asked them to keep me in mind for the future. A month or two later I got the call about a hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was very excited because that’s another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I jumped on it right away.
FR: Have you ever done anything like this?
Bruschi: I have done nothing like this before — ever. In advance of the trip, they sent me a camelback backpack for hiking and climbing. It had so many straps I didn’t know what to do with any of them, let alone how to use the type of apparatus it has for drinking. I’ve had to get used to the equipment and I’ve done research on Kilimanjaro, so I basically started from scratch.
FR: What have you been doing to physically prepare for the trip?
Bruschi: There aren’t any mountains close to where I live, so I’ve gone on jogs to the local high school, running bleachers with a weighted vest. Then I sort of graduated to small mountains like Blue Hill in Massachusetts and then going to New Hampshire. I climbed Belknap, Piper, White Face, and Gunstock — that was a day I went about eight-and-a-half miles up and down. Nothing too high. I think my guide said it was about 2,225 feet, so I haven’t really gotten the altitude, but there’s really nowhere nearby where I can train 15,000-19,000 foot peaks. When I was getting vaccinations, my doctor said altitude affects people in different ways. I can’t really anticipate how it’s going to go, but I have some things I can take for it.
FR: Have you spoken with people who have climbed Mt. Kili?
Bruschi: On the group of runners who run for Tedy’s Team, there is someone who climbed Kilimanjaro. She told me about the gradual climb that it was and the difficulty of the altitude. All the porters tell you to go slow. ‘Pole pole’ is a Swahili term that I’ve learned. It means slow — one step at a time. I had a guide when I went to New Hampshire, his name was Sherpa John. He told me, “left, right, repeat.” Just do that over and over and he said, ‘you’ll be okay.’
FR: How does your training for this compare with getting ready for an NFL season?
Bruschi: It’s different. I didn’t do any kind of explosive training for this and that’s what football involves. I feel very fit doing the training and the running and the bleachers and the hiking. I’m probably down 20 pounds from my playing weight. I’ve kept fit since my retirement. This is just a totally different type of training. It’s more of stamina and endurance, how your knees are going to hold up.
FR: How special is it to do this trip with members of the Wounded Warriors?
Bruschi: I’m very excited to get to know them. I think you get to know someone pretty well when you’re walking with them. You’re outdoors, you’re camping overnight, and that’s how they tell me it’s going to be. I’m honored to hear their stories of inspiration. Two of them have prosthetic legs. One of them, Bryan from California, is a former middle linebacker. I’m sure we’ll have a fair amount in common and I’m looking forward to meeting him and the others. Just being able to experience this eight or nine-day climb up and down with them, I’m sure I will have a few new friends for the rest of my life.
FR: How well do you know Jeff Fisher and Chad Lewis?
Bruschi: I don’t know either personally but I know their reputation and I respect both Chad and Jeff from my time in the NFL. One interesting thing though, one of my biggest tirades as a player – and it didn’t happen often – was actually directed at Jeff and his team. I believe it was 2006, we played them and receiver Bobby Wade went low on Rodney Harrison and blew his knee out. I went ballistic. It was the first time, one of the only times, I ever lost total emotional control on the football field when I started yelling at the Tennessee sideline. Jeff was in my sights and I just lost it. I’m sure we’ll relive that memory a little bit.
FR: What is planned for acclimatization when you arrive?
Bruschi: To acclimate to the climate, I thought we’d be hanging around for the day. Instead of doing that, they arranged a one-day safari for the first day we’re there. That’s an added bonus to the trip. That makes it even more exciting for me. I even went out and bought a nice pair of binoculars.
FR: Between the climb and the safari, are these things you think you would have done on your own?
Bruschi: I don’t know. I want to say yes but how many people out there are older and wish they would have done certain things. Sometimes you just need a little kick to do something like this, and having that extra motivation to do this for the Wounded Warrior Project, and the NFL being so great arranging everything, I don’t know if I would have done this.
FR: Do you have other ‘bucket list’ type experiences you hope to do in your lifetime?
Bruschi: I’ve always thought about seeing the ‘seven wonders of the world.’ That’s on my list of things I would like to do.
Editor’s Note: Mt. Kilimanjaro is the fourth highest of the ‘Seven Summits’. The original post listed it as the world’s fourth-highest peak, which is incorrect.