Armstrong: We could all use more hugs this Valentine's Day

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This photo of David Hale Sylvester (left) was taken in Lebanon, Kan., Monday at the local library.

"Family Circus" cartoonist Bil Keane once said, "A hug is like a boomerang - you get it back right away."

David Hale Sylvester never met Keane but is a big believer in this sentiment - so much so that he traveled from Philadelphia to Lebanon, Kan.,  just for Valentine's Day.

He plans to spend the entire day Tuesday hugging people, enveloping 100 residents in those big, beefy biceps of his. That won't be easy, given that Lebanon's population is only about 200.  

But if anybody can do it, Sylvester can.

"Big Dave," as his friends call him, started his one-man quest to spread positivity shortly after losing a dear friend, Kevin Bowser, in the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack. Since then, he's bicycled across North America, Africa, Asia and Australia spreading his uniquely upbeat message.

Sylvester picked Lebanon for Tuesday's day-long hugfest because it's the geographic center of the continental United States. 

"We just need a good story," explained Sylvester, who works as a personal trainer at the Union League's Executive Fitness Center.  "I was at work the other day and a member came in and he just sat down in total frustration and he said, 'Could somebody save a f- cat from a tree or something and just give me something good to read?' He said, 'I'm so sick of just the bad news that's out there. 'And that sort of got me to thinking and I put this trip together relatively quickly....

"I'm just going there just to create some good news, just to create a good story and to just go around and spread some goodwill," added Sylvester, who's also a motivational speaker. "It's something that we need."

That's true. Needing is one thing, though. My question is: How's this touchy feelyness gonna fly in Kansas?

Especially since Sylvester, who is 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds of pure muscle,  is an equal-opportunity hugger. By that I mean, both men and women are invited in for one of his full-body embraces.  I called out to Lebanon last week to see what residents thought of  his effort. 

After reaching the municipal office, I was directed to the town's librarian, Denise Marcum, who told me that the residents in Lebanon were aware Sylvester was coming and were looking forward to his visit. 

 "It's miserable here with all the wind blowing, and it's just cold. It's nice to have some cheer and warmth,"  she said last week.  

Sylvester's hug-a-thon is a precursor to his goal of driving to all 50 states this summer on a Hug and High Five tour.

Last year, he did something similar, driving around the country and stopping in places touched by gun violence such as Ferguson, Mo.,  San Bernadino, Calif., Oklahoma City,  Chicago, and Orlando, hugging folks.

As I pointed out earlier, Sylvester, the author of the 2012 book,  Traveling at the Speed of Life: Stories of 4 Bicycle Treks across 3 Continents by 1 Smiling Big Man, is not out to sell anything. 

He's a different kind of dude. I first wrote about him years ago first when he was featured in our Sexy Singles roundup, and later after he rode his bicycle across the continent of Africa. He's one of those rare souls who is genuinely committed to trying in his own unique way to make a difference in the world.

As he said last week, "I'm just excited to do some good."

The way things are going, we certainly could use it.

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