COVINGTON - Be sure to wave if you see Andy Mandell, also known as Mr. Diabetes, walking on the side of the road over the next week.
Mandell is on the last leg of his Wake Up and Walk Tour, a more than 10,000-mile walk of the perimeter of the United States to raise awareness of the dangers of diabetes.
"I've been nicked a couple of times by cars," he said about his journey so far, which has consisted of about 8,900 miles and 32 states. "It's part of the gig - I'm playing in a motorized playground."
He officially started his tour on the Gulf Coast of Florida in January 2002.
"It began after a 450-mile trial walk (in December 2000) through Florida to see if I could even do it," Mandell, who has Type II diabetes, said Tuesday as he was taking a break from his walk.
After taking care of some personal matters, including having eye surgery as a result of his diabetes, he started his journey by working his way west, then north, then east and then back down south again.
Georgia is the last state on the tour before he heads back to his home state of Florida. He arrived in Madison a couple of weeks ago, where he and his tour managers are now stationed. He will stay in the Newton-Rockdale-Morgan counties area for the next week, then head to McDonough and Atlanta before heading to Macon and Savannah on his way to Florida.
He said the only time he gets into a vehicle is at the end of each walk to get into various campgrounds.
"I walk the whole time," said Mandell, who was born in Boston in 1945 and moved to Florida in 1990.
Mandell is walking to raise awareness of diabetes for his non-profit organization, Defeat Diabetes Foundation, which he started in 1991 with his brother Jerry, who was later diagnosed with diabetes, as well.
"You can go eight to 10 years typically before symptoms show up," Mandell said.
Mandell was diagnosed with diabetes in 1985 after his mother talked him into going to the doctor because of family history with diabetes.
So far on his walk, he said he's handed out more than 60,000 brochures, which includes statistics and a diabetes screening test, to people he's met along his journey.
"It's a lot more than just going out for a stroll," he said. "We're sharing information for people as best as we can, creating awareness for people."
On his travels, he said he meets with mayors, governors, business community groups, schools and ordinary citizens who want to know why he's walking.
When he's not talking to media outlets or fellow people with diabetes, he said he takes about 200 to 500 pictures a day and he'll try to read or talk on the phone - "when it's safe."
In addition to avoiding roadway accidents with motorized vehicles, he said he also gets attacked by dogs "an unbelievable amount of times."
"On average, Russ (Barriger, his tour manager) comes to my rescue a couple or three times a week," Mandell said.
He said he welcomes anyone to walk with him, but he won't wait on those who tell him they want to walk with him because often times they don't show up.
Even though he isn't expecting to finish the tour until December 2008 or later, he already has plans for his next diabetes awareness project.
He is organizing the Martial Arts Defeat Diabetes Community Action Project, where he will visit martial arts students around the country to raise awareness of diabetes and fitness. More information about his organization, donations and projects are found on the Defeat Diabetes Web site, www.defeatdiabetes.org, also home to more than 2,000 pages of diabetes information.
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.