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.
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.
Disappointed he couldn't take part in an NFL USO tour to Afghanistan, Bruschi had 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."
Current employer ESPN gave him the time off, and Bruschi 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. The three NFL alums 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.
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."