At first glance, David Sylvester does not look like the type of man that could cross the continent on a bicycle. More linebacker than Lance Armstrong, Sylvester has just one way of attacking life, head on. And he is taking that strategy much further than transversing North America, which he has already done. Sylvester will attempt to cross nearly 7,000 miles and 10 countries in the Tour d’Afrique 2004, a fundraising goodwill bike tour from Cairo, Egypt, to Cape Town, South Africa—more than 120 days of grueling, soul-searching pain on two wheels.
Sylvester, who works in the Gastric Bypass Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, will not be traveling alone, though. Along with the other riders, some professional and others amateur, Sylvester will have the good wishes of many friends and associates that he leaves on native shores and the single determination to make a difference by drawing attention to what one person can do with motivation and the discipline to follow it up.
One of the primary objectives of his ride is continued publicity and funding for a scholarship that Sylvester created in the memory of his lifelong friend and native Philadelphian, Kevin Bowser. Bowser’s life was tragically snuffed out in the horror of Sept. 11. Months later Sylvester created The Kevin Bowser Scholarship Fund, which is now administered by the Philadelphia Foundation. The scholarship benefits graduates of Bowser and Sylvester’s alma mater, Bartram High School.
Never one to think small, Sylvester hopes that he can raise much more money than the $10,000 that his trek across the United States brought in. Talking to the community activist, mentor and fitness trainer, it is not hard to believe that whatever the circumstances, Sylvester will persevere to the end.
The outspoken activist credits much of his aggressive enthusiasm for life to his late father, Samuel Sylvester, a longtime professor in the School of Social Work. Talking about his father, Sylvester retreated a bit from his bombastic persona. “Days before my father passed he told me to forget the bad feelings we hold against others and get on with living.” It is this resolve that empowers Sylvester to work in situations most see as helpless.
At HUP, where he counsels gastric bypass patients and helps them devise a method of fitness to cope with life before and after the surgery, Sylvester expresses nothing but hope, albeit in the sometimes rough demeanor of a drill sergeant. “People need to understand that they are worth it,” said Sylvester, speaking about the trials of obesity and finding good physical health. “Most of the obstacles that you see in life are more perception than reality. I do everything I can to get these patients to realize how precious life is, whether that be through a kind word or a well placed cuss.”
When asked whether he felt heroic with the daunting task ahead, he smiled and said, “Right now, I just want to get there and get started. The most relaxing part will be the riding. I’m tired of the interviews.”
For more information on Sylvester’s trip, including ways to donate and a log from the journey, go to www.contribute2.org.
Originally published on January 29, 2004