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Gary Walters' new challenge? It's wacky

In this file photo, Gary Walters prepares for a previous challenge by kayaking. Brainerd Dispatch

Gary Walters' challenge to raise money to benefit children may have some thinking of a certain small creature in a metal wheel—a big wheel—a wacky wheel.

What else could one expect from a man who perpetually puts himself in physically and mentally challenging situations aimed at gaining attention and funds for nonprofits? This year's challenge can trace its birth to two guys trying to digest a mountain of state fair food. Walters and sidekick John Raboin created often humorous video segments as they tried to sample 30 foods, many on a stick, and rate each item for the fair challenge. During one break while they considered the folly of this challenge, they observed a man walking and doing acrobatic stunts all while moving along in a big wheel. Melvin Halls, the Wacky Wheeler from Wisconsin, makes appearances at state fairs across the country. He performs in a 300-pound wheel that is 4 feet wide and 10 feet tall.

"John and I looked at each other and he said 'You should do this,'" Walters said.

Never to shrink from a challenge, Walters had immediate questions. How does one come across such a wheel? And, more importantly, how do you manage to ride one? That led to conversations with fabricators, a visit with the Wacky Wheeler himself and more questions. Does a man in a wheel need special permits for traveling?

Walters was thinking of a 8-foot wheel with 24 inches between rungs, a bit shorter distance than some of the others wheels out there as just walking seemed to be enough without the acrobatics.

For the challenge, Walters plans to walk the wheel from Brainerd to Bemidji and back—200 miles. He hopes to do the trip in 10 to 14 days with a goal of wheeling 20 miles a day. It's a trip he knows well. He biked from Brainerd to Bemidji and back with his daughter Jessica in a 15-hour stretch in 2012. He's hoping the Wacky Wheeler himself will show up along the route.

As Walters says with every challenge, even the most arduous, "with a little training it's doable."

"I just want to step forward and not die," he said.

He notes he has no real knowledge, expertise or history to go by to determine if this is in fact a goal that can be accomplished.

"The point is to just go for it," Walters said. "The point is you've got to do what you've got to do to get things done."

In a change this year, Walters is not fundraising for Kinship Partners. After a long association, Walters said he still is a strong advocate of mentoring. He said Kinship Partners was going in a different direction than they had in the past and he thought his efforts would be better used somewhere else. It just seemed like the time to expand to work with other community groups. He is still focused on fundraising to benefit youth.

"I love the idea of one-on-one mentoring with kids," Walters said, who remains a mentor himself. "I always have. I always will. This was an opportunity where I could still focus on kids."

In 14 years of challenges, Walters raised more than $250,000. As always, 100 percent of the donated dollars go to the charity. Walters pays for his expenses.

He plans to do challenges over the next four years with profits shared by three organizations that benefit youth—Kids Against Hunger, Camp Confidence and the Brainerd Public School Foundation.

Walters said he loved the idea of the organizations focused on children all working together with each gaining additional exposure and then taking turns each year to gain from the funds raised. It set aside any idea that could be out there of organizations fighting for the same dollar.

Walters initial plans are to practice this summer and then up the challenge, perhaps on Labor Day weekend, but exact times and details were still being determined. He's building a new website. Go to https://www.thatguyadventures.org/ for more information.

After two years of Ironman experience, Walters said they decided it was time to go back and do something wacky. Afterall, his challenges have been dubbed Walters Wacky Adventures.

"I'm the human hamster," Walters said. "Two hundred miles is way out there."

Past Walters' Kinship challenges

• 2003—Walters biked from New Orleans to Baxter with his brother Craig, covering 1,540 miles in 19 days.

• 2004—He lived nine days on a ledge of Brainerd's historic water tower just off South Sixth Street for "Perching for Partners."

• 2005 --- Walters, with his children Jackson, Jessica and Reggie participating, walked the length of Minnesota covering 437 miles in 22.5 days.

• 2006—Walters swam across a rough Lake Mille Lacs with 3-foot waves. He covered 14 miles and raised about $20,000 in pledges. Walters swam on and off from about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 to 2:30 a.m. Aug. 17, spent a bumpy night on a pontoon and then continued to swim on and off between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Aug. 17 before reaching shore.

• 2007—Walters lost 100 pounds in a year, going from 290 pounds to 190 through diet and exercise.

• 2008—Walters and son Jackson unicycled for 24 hours around the track at Brainerd High School.

• 2009—Walters and Jackson traveled on inline skates from Brainerd to Washington D.C. as daughter Jessica traveled with them on her bike.

• 2010—Walters completed the Twin Cities Marathon in 6 hours and 32 minutes. He said he thought about quitting, but kept on because he wasn't doing it for himself but was doing it for Kinship Partners.

• 2011—Walters, along with Jackson and Jessica, completed the "Coast to Coast for Kids" challenge, riding 3,179 miles on bicycles on a 54-day trek covering the width of the nation between the East Coast and the West Coast.

• 2012—For his 10th challenge, Walters' goal was to raise funds and awareness for Kinship Partners and focus attention on being more healthy. He set up a trifecta of activities. The trifecta included working toward and keeping a healthy weight. He biked 200 miles during 15 hours covering the distance between Baxter and Bemidji and back again with his teenage daughter Jessica. And he completed the Twin Cities Marathon in October in 5 hours and 59 minutes, in time to qualify as a marathoner.

• 2013—Walters swam across Loch Ness in Scotland to prove once and for all if the fabled monster has any interest in a man from Minnesota clad in a wet suit. Nessie didn't. Walters said the Scottish people were great and he learned the benefit of making everything an adventure. The event raised $11,100 for Kinship Partners.

• 2014—Walters takes on Ironman triathlon in Tempe, Ariz. His day ended earlier than he hoped, but he signed up for the 2015 Ironman the next day.

• 2015—Walters takes on Ironman triathlon in Tempe, Ariz. At the end of more than a 16.5 hour day he hears "Gary Walters, you are an Ironman."

• 2016—30 challenges in 30 days from bicycling 30 miles, to inline skating 30 miles to dressing up like a turtle for the Nisswa turtle races, to kayaking past 30 docks on Gull Lake, to packaging meal boxes for Kids Against Hunger, or trying 30 fair foods, this month of challenges offered many ways for people to join in events, be active and explore what the lakes area has to offer.

Source: Walters Wacky Adventures.

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