- Tedy Bruschi, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Editor's note: ESPN football analyst Tedy Bruschi will chronicle his climb up the 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro (May 13-19) for ESPNBoston.com. Bruschi, former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis and four injured military service members are climbing the mountain to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. You can follow the progress of the group on the Wounded Warrior Project site.
TANZANIA, Africa -- Friday marks the start of our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, although our journey to this point started Tuesday in New York.
We had an early wake-up call that day for an interview on CNN. We met in the lobby at 6 a.m. for the 6:50 interview at Time-Warner studios. New York traffic was heavy at that time, so we got into the building at 6:40. They hustled us through makeup to get us on the set.
It was me, former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis and Nancy Schiliro, one of the four Wounded Warriors making the climb. Nancy, who is visually impaired, was the star of the segment. She immediately made us all feel at ease when she said, "It's all fun and games until you lose an eye." It took her a while, but she said she's come to grips with what she had to go through. She's a very strong woman and she captained us both during the interview, educating everyone on the Wounded Warrior project and believeinheroes.org and how they're helping veterans re-integrate into society.
After that, we went to Engine 10, Ladder 10 and got to spend time with some firefighters, while looking at the Memorial outside of their firehouse. As I was being given a tour, there was a call, and one of them said, "Do you want to ride with us?" So I rode in Engine 10 a couple of blocks, with the sirens going, to investigate a smoking manhole cover. They assured me there wouldn't be anything serious, and they are usually false alarms because it's steam coming out of the manhole.
It was a false alarm. It was exciting to spend some time with the firefighters in their element.
On the front of their fire trucks, in quotation marks, it says "Still Standing." I told them that was a motto I also used throughout my career, in terms of no matter what comes your way, as long as you're still standing and get through it, that's what matters most. They went through a lot bigger challenges than I went through, but immediately when I saw "Still Standing," we had something to talk about.
Then came the Sept. 11 Memorial tour. They showed us the grounds outside, which will have 417 trees planted on them -- 416 oak trees, with the other tree called "The Survivor Tree," which is a Callery pear tree. It will be unique among all the oak trees and it flowers white in the spring. This is the tree that survived the Sept. 11 destruction and they brought it to a different site so they could bring it back to life. It ended up surviving. While they were rehabilitating the tree, it was struck by lightning, so that tree has been through a lot; that's why they call it "The Survivor Tree."
It's a beautiful tree that flowers white in the springtime -- I know this because they are in my neighborhood at home -- but when you look at this tree you can tell that there is part of it missing. That's a true symbol of the Memorial site. It's going to be incredible, something everyone can appreciate, but everybody will always remember that piece that is missing from everyone, which is the reason for the Memorial site.
They took us downstairs, and it's just absolutely remarkable what they have planned. I was very impressed, in awe of the scope of it all. I didn't really understand the scope of how much devastation there was until you stand in the middle of that site, you look all around, and realize there were two huge skyscrapers standing right where you were.
The one building they're building (One World Trade Center) is going to be taller than the Twin Towers; it's going to be 1,776 feet high in honor of the year 1776 and Independence Day.
After that, we went to NFL headquarters and spent some time with commissioner Roger Goodell. We didn't ask him one question about the lockout, or one question about football. It was nice to talk to him about his family and his experience of climbing Mount Rainier. The one thing Chad and I wanted to express to him, after coming from the 9/11 site, was that it would be disappointing if there wasn't football on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. To me football was such a big part of it. I remember our season being stopped because of it. I remember sitting in the training room, getting treatment, when it all happened and a lot of members of the team were just huddling around the TV. I remember them postponing the games that week and all of the guys on the team getting together over at Drew Bledsoe's house.
To me it wouldn't be the same if the NFL wasn't playing football. Chad and I talked about how we thought the NFL would be losing a lot of people if there is no football by Sept. 11.
We then went to a Portuguese restaurant in New Jersey -- Fornos of Spain -- on our way to the airport. It was a great chance for us to bond and get to know each other a little more before we hit the flight. We saw one of the actors from the Sopranos there, and I had empanadas and paella. The empanadas were fantastic.
Everywhere we would go, the Wounded Warriors are like celebrities. Everyone thanks them for their service. Everyone thanks them for their sacrifice. It was a great gesture when the captain acknowledged them on the plane, mentioning to everyone they were on the flight. Everyone gave them a big round of applause. That was really cool, and I was applauding, too.
We had a long flight to Amsterdam. Then it was Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport. We landed there at 8:23 p.m. local time.
We woke up the next morning and went on an all-day safari of the Arusha National Park. We didn't see any lions, but giraffes were in the street, and zebras were running all over the place. There were buffalo, and monkeys were sort of walking in front of the van like they owned the road.
There were great views and it was a great time. At one point, we stopped over a viewpoint, were standing and enjoying the view, and there was a tree that had to be 100 feet high. All of a sudden, we hear this rustling in the bushes and we think there is a water buffalo about to come out. But the tree was actually falling. It just fell, right down the cliff that we were watching, 10 feet from me.
It was outstanding watching the view over this vista of a valley and to my left is this tree which had to be 80 years old. It was huge. We heard this "snap, snap" and the tree just collapses, all the way down. It was like a tree avalanche.
That was a pretty amazing part of the safari, to see a tree of that size just fall on its own.
We came back to the hotel and had our night-before-the-climb meeting with our guides. They told us some last-minute preparations for packing, such as packing as light as you can, and taking what you needed for altitude sickness if you wanted to. The plan is to leave at 8:30 in the morning and we will take the Machame route.
They say the Machame route is one of the most beautiful to Kilimanjaro. It offers beautiful scenery and landscapes and it allows you to acclimatize well. This route usually takes about six or seven days. We're starting at around 6,000 feet and will be ascending to about 10,000 feet on our first day. The walking distance is about three-and-a-half miles and it will be about a five- to seven-hour hike.
That's the plan for Day 1.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team.