Our story began with a casual conversation. Ken Huff was telling a friend about the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago. It was, Huff told his friend, "an absolutely phenomenal experience." Well, ya think? Kilimanjaro rises ...
Our story began with a casual conversation. Ken Huff was telling a friend about the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago. It was, Huff told his friend, "an absolutely phenomenal experience."
Well, ya think? Kilimanjaro rises 19,341 feet above Tanzania. It is the highest mountain on the continent of Africa; climbers who reach its peak can look down on the clouds.
That experience alone can put any number of things into perspective, including the relative importance of "fame" — in this case, the 11 years Huff spent in the National Football League as a guard for the Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins.
"You feel so insignificant. You're so high up. You see the majestic view, the sun coming up over the sea of clouds," Huff said. "You realize you really are on top of the world. We're put on this planet — this huge, wonderful planet — and we're just passers-by."
Huff's friend wondered if he'd ever again want to tackle the mountain. He thought about it a moment, then answered, "Yes, if we did it for a reason instead of just doing it."
Grand ideas are born from such moments. Huff, indeed, is going back to Kilimanjaro in February and he'll take several companions along for the climb, among them former Buffalo Bills and Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, 59, and a gentleman named Tommy Rieman.
Rieman is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and was awarded the Silver Star after he was shot twice and sustained 11 shrapnel wounds during a battle in Iraq. He also helped set up a perimeter during the battle so medics could safely evacuate other wounded.
Rieman spoke at the Hall of Fame dinner when the Super Bowl was in Tampa two years ago. DeLamielleure was in the crowd that day and the two have been friends since.
"Joe's always up for something crazy," Rieman said.
That's certifiable. Recently, DeLamielleure and a couple of college roommates rode bikes about 2,000 miles from Michigan to Mexico for a good cause. It was the first time he had done something like that. Who's going to back down from a mountain now?
"He called me up and said, 'I want you for this,' and I'm like, 'OK,' " Rieman said. "Neither of us has climbed before, but if you can achieve the summit you can do anything. That's the message we're trying to send."
As if surviving two bullets and 11 pieces of shrapnel while saving several fellow soldiers isn't message enough.
"Sometimes when I get introduced, they call me a hero. Hero, my butt," DeLamielleure said. "I'm an entertainer. I'm an offensive guard who played football. Tommy guards our country. Hearing his story got me very motivated."
That's how it works. One step leads to the next one, and now the reason Huff needed to climb Kilimanjaro again has been realized. He and his fellow hikers will raise money to benefit Wounded Warriors, a private operation that provides help to severely injured soldiers.
"I don't think God put me in the Hall of Fame just because I played football," DeLamielleure said. "We can do a lot of good with our notoriety."
If you can think of a better gift in this season of giving, it must be really special.
"Just because someone is wounded, life isn't over," Huff said. "There is still a lot they can do. I played golf about a month ago with a triple-amputee — lost both of his legs and one arm. He has three artificial limbs and he's a single-digit handicapper, and I'm lucky to break 100."
Huff, 57, and friends are counting on the publicity from this climb to spur donations for the cause. They've set up a website — bootsandcleatsonthesummit.com — to provide additional info about the project as well, of course, as a place to contribute money.
There are many Wounded Warrior chapters, including one in Clearwater. You may have seen them at such events as the Gasparilla Distance Classic. They are amazing people, both those who give and those who receive.
That takes us back to the mountain, which serves as both a metaphor for this story and real-life challenge. Kilimanjaro can be tamed, but not without a fight. An estimated one-third of those who try to scale it fall short. Recently, Martina Navratilova abandoned her quest to get to the top when one of her lungs collapsed in the thin air.
"It's the most physically demanding thing I've ever done, all (NFL) training camps included. It's all because of the lack of oxygen and altitude," Huff said.
"The last mile you hike, they wake you up at midnight and you start hiking at 1 a.m. because there's more oxygen in the air at that time. You arrive at the summit at sunrise, above the clouds. It's hard to describe what that is like. You are literally on top of the world."
That's where we came in. Someone asked Ken Huff if he'd climb Kilimanjaro again and he answered yes. All he needed was a reason, and now he has one.
"I just like doing stuff," he said.
It's a lot more than just that.
"People take for granted the freedoms we have," DeLamielleure said. "We have to remember the sacrifice these guys have made for us. We have to help them."
By JOE HENDERSON | The Tampa Tribune Published: December 24, 2010
January 6, Alexander Abramov, passed the information from the base Union Glacier .. The Polish part of the group had already flown to the mainland. Alexander Abramov, Coco Popescu and Mario Trimeri are resting on the base. They are waiting ...
January 6, Alexander Abramov, passed the information from the base Union Glacier .. The Polish part of the group had already flown to the mainland. Alexander Abramov, Coco Popescu and Mario Trimeri are resting on the base. They are waiting for a new group, which is scheduled to be flown the 10 th of January and ready to fly to the area of the volcano Sedley. Maxim Bogatyrev stayed at the base camp of Vinson.
By the way, we congratulate Maxim Bogatyrev with a completion of the project Seven Summits! We wish him to replenish his collection of summits, climb its for second and third time, reach Carstensz, and the Poles!