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Joe D reaching for top ; Former Bill to climb mountain for charity

Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure does 500 push-ups and sit-ups a day.

He rides an exercise bicycle 30 minutes a day, which is a warm-up for the meat of his exercise regimen. The former Bills guard works out with resistance stretch bands for 50 seconds and then rests 10 seconds, over and over, for 80 minutes. On the weekends, DeLamielleure and his wife, Sandy, typically take a walk for about 10 miles on Saturday and Sunday.

So when DeLamielleure was invited to climb Mount Kilimanjaro later this year, he was not intimidated by the fact it's the highest peak on the African continent, at 19,341 feet or by the fact he's about to turn 60 years old in March. DeLamielleure was motivated by the cause.

"You always hear people referring to football players as warriors and heroes," DeLamielleure said by phone from his home in North Carolina. "But c'mon. We're entertainers. It's always bothered me when people refer to us, football players, as warriors. People who risk their lives in combat are the real heroes, the real warriors."

DeLamielleure has joined with a group that will climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit group that helps injured service men and women.

DeLamielleure loved the idea even more when he found out he could bring along a U.S. serviceman or veteran who had been wounded in combat to join him on the climb. He had the perfect man in mind. During some Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities several years ago, DeLamielleure met U.S. Army Sgt. Tommy Rieman, and he saw Rieman as an ideal ambassador for the effort.

"Tommy took 23 gunshot wounds serving in Iraq," DeLamielleure said. "He won the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He's one of the most inspirational people I've ever met."

Rieman, 30, was leading a three-vehicle, eight-man convoy on a reconnaissance mission near the Abu Ghraib prison on Dec. 3, 2003, when it came under heavy enemy fire from 35 insurgents. The convoy was hit with three rocket-propelled grenades, three roadside bombs and gunfire. Rieman used his body to shield his gunner and received bullet wounds to his chest and arm. The U.S. troops defeated the insurgents and made it to a side road a kilometer away, where they again came under fire from 15 other enemy troops. Rieman returned a high volume of small arms and grenade launcher fire while directing supporting machine gun fire, and the enemy weapons ultimately were silenced in time for rescue helicopters to arrive. All eight men in the convoy survived.

Rieman's motivation to help the Wounded Warriors Project was enhanced by what happened after he and his fellow soldiers got home.

"What has really tied me in to do this climb is one of the guys who was in the convoy with me," said Rieman, who lives near DeLamielleure in Charlotte. "He lost his right leg and spent 2 1/2 years in Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], basically in solitude. I say that because his room in Walter Reed was basically like a hotel room, a pretty cheap one at that. He was a foster child, never adopted. He never had much growing up. He didn't have anybody. So here he is, he's sacrificing, giving everything for his country.

"He has a terrible recovery," Rieman said. "He becomes addicted to pills and alcohol and just has this rough road. Well, finally he gets released from Walter Reed and goes out to Arizona. And then he takes his own life. He didn't feel like he had any support channels or anything else.

"Anything that I've been through, nothing has had more of an impact on me than that," Rieman continued. "After seeing all the struggles he went through, I thought, 'This guy finally has stuck it out and been through his trials and tribulations. But here he is on top.' Then he takes his life. That just damaged me. I never want to see that again."

It's stories like this that motivate DeLamielleure to drum up sponsorship and donations to support the mountain climb.

"If we raised $50,000 or $60,000 we'd be thrilled," DeLamielleure said. "I think we can raise a lot more, and that would be wonderful. But along with the money, to make people more aware of what's going on with these veterans who need more assistance is really important."

DeLamielleure contributed to a charitable adventure in April 2009. He and two former Michigan State football teammates rode bicycles from East Lansing, Mich., to Mexico. It was a 2,000-mile trip in 18 days, and it raised $300,000 for the Shinsky Orphanage in Matamoros, Mexico.

"That was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," DeLamielleure said. "My rear end hurt. My legs didn't hurt, but my rear end killed me. The weather was brutal. It rained eight of the 18 days."

DeLamielleure got recruited for the Mount Kilimanjaro climb by former NFL offensive lineman Ken Huff, who has worked with Wounded Warriors for several years and who climbed the African peak several years ago. Those two, plus former Walter Camp Football Foundation President Tom Lawley, will make the climb with several veterans.

"Joe's incredibly fit and maybe a little crazy," Huff said. "It didn't take much for me to convince him to join.

"On the last day, they wake you up at midnight and you start hiking at 1 o'clock. Word is, there's more oxygen in the air at night. But then you reach the summit at sunrise, and it's just absolutely gorgeous. The top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is surrounded by a cloud 3,000 feet below you and it's like you're on an island. You see the sun come up over those clouds, and it's just indescribable."

DeLamielleure weighs 258 pounds, exactly what he weighed when he was blocking for O.J. Simpson in the 1970s.

"I'm not worried about the hiking part of it," DeLamielleure said. "The thing that might get me is the altitude. You never know about that until you get up there. I saw where Martina Navratilova had to turn back due to the altitude. She was in great shape. I like the fact it's a challenge. If it was a cupcake, everybody would be doing it."

DeLamielleure, Huff and Lawley are in the process of raising about $50,000 to cover the cost of the ascent, which is planned for mid-August.

The Buffalo Bills Alumni Foundation is officially lending their support with an announcement Friday at 8 p.m. at the Seneca Niagara Hotel & Casino.

To learn more about the project, visit bootsandcleatsonthesummit.com. To donate to the cause, checks can be made to: Walter Camp Football Foundation, P.O. Box 1663, New Haven, Conn. Note bootsandcleatsonthesummit on the envelope. More information on support for injured veterans can be found at woundedwarriorproject.org.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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