Traveling at the Speed of Life


Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We are are going to have fantastic show, an exciting, if you will, journey around the world with David Hale Sylvester talking about his bike trip to actually recover as a coach himself, from a personal loss. I’m really excited to hear about David’s resilience and his ability to climb that impossible mountain, literally.

I think David is probably one of the most positively contagious people that I have ever met. Just before we bring David on; I belong to a club that is well-known across the United States which is called The Union League. It was started back in the 1860’s to help corral our service people into a what we call a more positive environment politically. It was during the Civil War when we were fighting for our freedom. It became a way of helping our military professionals—their motto is “Love of Country Leads.” The Philadelphia based club, which of course the Union League has clubs and sister and brother organizations all over the world, was #1 in the country. To give you an indication as to how important that is and how important David’s role is: David and I met at their gymnasium—they have a huge health facility, they do physical therapy, they do performance coaching. David was just one of those, I’ll call, gentle giants that you just cannot help but say hello to and feel welcomed by. If I tell you a little bit about David and let him tell his story, I think it will be much more compelling.

David lost a very dear friend in the World Trade Center, as many people did on 9/11. David Hale Sylvester adopted a mission to enhance the world one interaction at a time. To that end, David has bicycled, volunteered, hugged and high-fived his way across Africa, Asia, Australia, and North American continents. His best-selling book, Traveling at the Speed of Life, is a part of the curricula now at seven universities. David never imagined in his life that he would have evolved into a philanthropist, a cross-continental bicyclist, author, and film maker. But now, he will be the first to tell you that he can’t ever imagine stopping. We’ll listen to more of the magic of David’s amazing story from David himself.

Dr. Relly Nadler: David’s website is The magic with David’s amazing story isn’t where he’s gone on the bike but what he has achieved far and beyond his bike. One of the key takeaways that we will have him talk about, is “evolve.” It’s a key takeaway from his talks on the subject of his journey where he was also able to convey a message around the world. So today, David is a lot more than a performance coach, he is an author, a lecturer and more.

David, we’ll let you tell your story instead of us going through it. Tell us a little bit about your story and how this all came about.

David Hale Sylvester: My story just starts off with me just riding my bike. My friend was killed on September 11th and I wanted to do something to honor him. My first thought was to honor him by riding my bicycle across the United States. I went from Washington State to Philadelphia. It was really just a wonderful experience because I met so many people that really wanted a hug and wanted stuff just as much as I did. It was just great. It inspired me to want to do more and want to see more of the country and that’s all I just wanted to do.

I decided that I was going to next ride my bicycle across Africa. I went from Cairo to Cape Town and that was a five month trip. Again, people just really connected with me and connected with my story.

Once I came back, I decided that I wanted to tell my story in a way that I could. I didn’t think about writing a book, but I made a documentary called, “Contributing to the Experience.” It ended up getting Best Documentary in Philadelphia, London and Berlin.

Once that got awards, it really made me think, hey wait a minute, this could go even bigger than what I imagined. Throughout my story it’s been about not just my call but the response from the people that have made me want to do more.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: David, let me ask you this question, I’m sure a lot of people are asking themselves, how did you prepare for this mission and where did you get the funding to support yourself to do this? This is no insignificant amount of effort, time and resources. So tell us a little bit about how you did that. I’m sure many people would love to inspire others, but it takes time, money and resources. How did you do it?

David Hale Sylvester: I was willing to put in the time, and in terms of the money, I just cashed in a lot of favors and a lot of everything—a lot of my savings–just in order to do this. What I have found out is that once people saw what I was willing to do, they were willing to pay my speakers fees, they were willing to help me out from me helping them out. The saying, “where there’s a will there’s a way,” doesn’t come from just no place. I have been able to really just leverage my heart and my emotions and the good deeds that I have done into money and goods and services in order to pay for air tickets, to pay for inoculations, to pay for all of that stuff. I’m very, very fortunate that everybody has been just really cheering me on. So even though I lost time, I didn’t lose that much time because everybody was willing to pick me up in terms of training them, right away again.

So you just hustle. The only thing I can think of is just hustle.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Can you say a little bit about as you were cycling, where would you stay? Was it with families? Did you find campgrounds?

David Hale Sylvester: I’ve stayed everywhere. I’ve camped out. I have stayed with people’s families. I’ve stayed everywhere. I’ve stayed in motels that were pretty much like campgrounds. I have seen everywhere. It is just that you do what you can in order to get to the next town in order to get to the next city, in order to get to the next thing.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I wanted to ask you: how did you keep up this internal inspiration? What was it that kept that light on for such a long time?

David Hale Sylvester: Again, it hasn’t been my call, it’s been the response from the people. I’ve met so many people that just really responded to my story in so many ways. There were people that I have just met for moments on the side of the road and have really been able to really have powerful interactions with them. These people that I have met on the side of the road have stayed in touch with me throughout my travels.

Everywhere I have gone they have always just remained in touch with me and always call me to say, hey, where in the world are you now? What are you doing? Or they have just said, hey listen, you may not remember me but you talked me into opening a business. You talked me into doing this, or doing that. It just feels good because these are people that only knew me for a moment, never knew my friend Kevin, and just really have responded to the story.

Now I get texts and emails every September 11th, from people all over the planet who say, I’m thinking about friendship today.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Just to hear the story, let’s say Cathy and I were taking a road trip and we stopped somewhere and we met you. What would you say? I imagine you are extroverted enough when you come up to us, and if so, what would you say?

David Hale Sylvester: I’d probably start off with a hug.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You’d say what? “Can I give you a hug?”

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: No. David doesn’t ask to hug you, David picks you up and carries you around.

David Hale Sylvester: You know, I just ask for high-five’s and I think that the one thing is that whenever you ride a bike somewhere, people are just as intrigued by you as you are by them. Wherever you are, everyone is thinking they should be someplace else. People in LA are thinking they should be in New York, people in New York are thinking they should be in Paris, people in Paris are thinking… Everyone thinks they should be somewhere else.

Whenever you bike there, people always say the same thing. What are you doing here? Which opens up a conversation about their life, about your mission, and it just starts the ball rolling. People just really gravitate to my story. They see that I’m just one man with a smile and a high-five, just looking to make a difference.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So these universities, including Yale, that carry your material in their curriculum; what do they use it for?

David Hale Sylvester: It depends on the classes. It’s being used in Black Studies at Cal State Northridge, where I will be delivering the commencement speech this weekend. It’s being used in a sociology class at Yale. It’s in a literature classes at other schools. It’s funny, it’s one professor who—I gave a lecture at the University of Wyoming a few years ago, and this person called me soon after the book came out and said that, when I spoke at Wyoming, they were finishing grad school and they were finishing their dissertation, and I inspired them to get across the finish line. They said they had been looking for a way to pay me back ever since, and that my book was perfect for one of their classes, would I mind if they used it. I said, no, this is great!

Again, it hasn’t just been the call, it’s been the response from people. That’s what keeps me going. That is what makes me want to do more. I’m not doing this in a vacuum. It’s the people.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So just to get the power—I don’t think we are getting the whole story yet. So you give us a high-five, and then what’s the story?

David Hale Sylvester: The story is, you tell me, I tell you what I’m working on. I have not been prepared or trained for anything that I have done. I have a degree in statistics at Temple, not creative writing, yet, I wrote a book. I am 250 lbs and an average cross continental cyclist is 100-something. I made a documentary and all I have to show for it is history of watching bad movies. I have not prepared for anything that I have done. But, there is only one reason I have done it and that’s because I wanted to.

I’ve always given more credence, more weight why my ideas would work that why they wouldn’t. I think when you think that way, you just find a way. So people like that energy, people like that kind of talk. People say, hey listen, how can I help you. You are already moving forward, how can I help you.

When I started writing the book, very long story—very short, there was a woman that just knew me through Facebook. She was just reading chapters as I would put them out. I would say, hey, listen, help me edit this book. Tell me what you feel. When the book needed one last edit, one last professional edit, this woman was like, when are you going to get it? I said, whenever I get the money, but I’m broke right now. There was a check FedEx’d immediately that Monday for the editing fees. It said get this book done, it is that important. This woman didn’t know me. She just knew me through my chapter. When I said that I couldn’t accept this money, she said you will, David, I know your heart. I said, well how do you know that, she said David, I read it.

Again, it hasn’t just been my call, it’s been the response that has been so powerful to everything.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Can you say something about your friend and the relationship you had with him because that’s the part that I haven’t heard yet—the impetus for all of this. I’m sure that is when you are on the road that you are sharing a little bit about that.

David Hale Sylvester: My friend Kevin Bowser, he and his twin brother were everything I wanted to be. I was an in-betweener. I was older than all of the little kids and younger than all of the teens, so I spent a lot of time by myself looking for guidance and leadership anywhere I could find it. Kevin and Calvin were the sons of a neighboring family and more than being around these guys, I wanted to be these guys.

Kevin and Calvin were 10 years older than me, but they never let me feel like I was 10 years younger. What is interesting is that at Kevin’s memorial service; we always knew that the twins as we referred to them, were always older than me, but it really wasn’t until his memorial service that I realized that they were 10 years older!

Ten years is a huge difference when you are 10 and they are 20. I could always hang around them and they never had a problem with me. They would always tell me to grow up, grow up, grow up, which is one of the reasons that the theme of all of my talks is to evolve, because I always had to step my game up whenever I was around them, in order to hang around them. All they had to do is say hey, if you don’t want to act right, you can’t hang around us. So I would do everything I could to step my game up. I would do everything I could to evolve. Kevin and Calvin were just very special individuals to me. I would be much, much less of a man if it wasn’t for them; if it wasn’t for my father, who were important men that I have had in my life.

Want to hear more about David Hale Sylvester and his inspirational story? You can listen to the entire recording of our interview above.


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