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    In the week before Dave Sylvester made it to Louisville, he'd been to Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis. He'd driven some 700 miles just that week in his white SUV, a sign on the door made to look like a nametag: "Hello, my name is" printed on a red strip at the top above "Big Dave" in cursive, #BigDaveHugsAmerica at the bottom. Since setting out from his home in Philadelphia on June 26, he'd been to more than 50 cities. By the time he made it to Kentucky last Saturday, he had clicked the little clicker counter he carries up to nearly 11,000.

    Dave Sylvester had hugged or hi-fived almost 11,000 people. Eleven thousand. That's nearly enough people to fill every seat in Slugger Field.

    When I meet the 52-year-old personal trainer, he's wearing glasses and a green polo with the logo for Duke Cannon, a soap company that sponsored this cross-country tour, one of Sylvester's many voyages — last year, he visited cities impacted by gun violence, and in the past, he's biked across Africa and Asia and pedaled the length of the U.S. twice. The “big” in "Big Dave" is certainly fitting — he stands above 6 feet, with shoulders wide enough to hug a bulldozer. “I’m on a hugging and hi-fiving tour across America,” he tells people walking by him on the sidewalk, where he's holding a sign like the one on his car. For every hug and hi-five he gets, he clicks his clicker. While Sylvester is in Louisville, it surpasses 11,000. Occasionally someone ignores him. “Hey, they’re not for everybody,” Sylvester says. “The message I try to put out is that there’s a lot of goodness. People are focusing on Charlottesville — this, that and the other. I just want to put a smile on people’s faces.”

    Photo by Dave Sylvester

    Sylvester started doing bike tours after losing one of his closest friends in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, hoping to spread some good will in a precarious world. “Kevin Bowser was like a brother to me,” he says. “I knew another person that worked in the towers. As much as Kevin has been the catalyst for everything I’ve done over the years, this other person slept in to work. So that’s the difference between life and death.” 

    Sylvester was rounding out the end of his tour in Louisville. He plans to write a collection of stories about his trips. “I just wanted to do something significant to honor Kevin and immortalize our friendship,” he says. “After these trips, I figured out that I was stronger and more capable than what I thought I was.”

    Cover Photo: Dave Sylvester // by Thomas Elmallakh

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