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Walters completes charity challenge

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Gary Walters' human hamster wheel ends its run at Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter Friday. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 7
Erik Martel and his father Andre Martel pause on their bike excursion to find out what brings a wheel to the trail as Gary Walters completes his 15th charity challenge. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 7
Erik Martel, St. Louis Park, takes a turn in the wheel as Gary Walters stands by on the Paul Bunyan State Trail between Nisswa and Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 7
Gary Walters pauses at the trail crossing on Wise Road on the last leg of his 200-mile challenge for charity. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 7
Gary Walters pauses for a beverage break on the last day of his 12 days in the wheel, covering 200 miles between Baxter and Bemidji. He said the wheel helped set this charity challenge apart for its visibility and for drawing attention to the fundraiser. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch6 / 7
Gary Walters pauses for a chance to cross Highway 371 on his way to his final destination, ending 12 days in the wheel covering 200 miles from Baxter to Bemidji and back. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch7 / 7

BAXTER—Gary Walters completed his 200-mile trek as a human hamster for charity in 12 days.

After negotiating a slightly harrowing Highway 371 crossing in a giant metal cable spool, Walters ended his day Friday at Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter. He completed the final short stretch from the Dondelinger auto dealership to the brewery after a quick stop for a shower and change of clothes.

The entire effort covered 14 days with Walters allowing himself two days off from the wheel. During that time, he went from wearing gloves and using the center spool holes for hand grips to jogging in the wheel hands-free by the end of the journey. He listened to music, whistled and sang along. During the two-week period, he handled business calls and had conversations from well-wishers both on the phone and in person. Numerous people stopped him to chat and try the wheel themselves.

The wheel helped set this challenge for charity—Walters' 15th annual event—apart from the others by its visual appeal.

In Merrifield, people came out along the trail and took photos. One gentleman told Walters he looked a lot like a guy they saw in the paper a few days before.

"This wheel is just so unique, everyone wants to stop and talk and try it out," Walters said during a brief stop on his last day from Nisswa to Baxter. "Then you get to tell the story."

Along the way he did his best to avoid a host of woolly bear caterpillars and moved one snake, looking for warmth along the paved trail, out of harm's way. Physically, Walters said this challenge was one of the harder ones he's undertaken. He ranked it even harder than walking the length of Minnesota. Walters said when biking across the country or walking the state, people who saw him had no idea if he was going a mile or a thousand. But people recognized the colorful wheel. In Pine River, on the second day of the expedition, a little girl brought Walters a sandwich and a water bottle. Two bicyclists from South Dakota stopped to ask about the wheel and wish Walters well.

"I saw you on the news the other night," said one man who brought a cash donation and tried the wheel near Wise Road as Walters was nearing the end of his last day on the trail. On his last day from Nisswa to Baxter, two bicyclists also stopped, intrigued by the colorful wheel they saw revolving down the Paul Bunyan State Trail in the distance.

"What the heck is that?" Erik Martel said of his first impression.

Andre Martel of southern Illinois was visiting his son. The younger Martel moved to the Twin Cities area, making a home in St. Louis Park. Father and son were biking the Paul Bunyan trail for the first time, traveling from Baxter to Nisswa and back again for a day trip.

After they both had a chance to try the wheel out for themselves and were back on their bikes heading north, Erik Martel told his father—"I bet you didn't think you were going to be in a hamster wheel today."

Andre Martel said it was an unexpectedly good moment during a great trail experience.

"I have to tell my wife, I've done something you've never done," Andre Martel said.

On Friday, Walters said they were a couple of thousand dollars short of their $20,000 goal.

Saturday, he posted a Facebook update noting he was extending the time period for 12 days to gather donations. Walters said they'd like to blow past $20,000, not just get there.

"Every little part helps and I really, really appreciate everybody who's given," Walters said in a video update. "I've got to tell—some people think whatever about me on the wheel—it's my pleasure and my honor to actually be able to do these fun things for charities. Why else would anybody take a hamster wheel 200 miles? It's because there is a charity that lets me do the really, really fun stuff."

As Walters pays for event expenses himself, 100 percent of donated funds go to the charities. This year, the fundraiser benefits three charities with Kids Against Hunger as the main beneficiary in the mix with Confidence Learning Center and the Brainerd Public School Foundation. One of the points that stuck out for Walters with this challenge was the way the charities worked together and were excited for one another, he said.

Go to for more information on the fundraiser.

"We're already planning 2018," Walters said, adding what the challenge may be is still a closely guarded secret.

As for the wheel's future resting place? Walters said: "I'm putting it in my yard as a yard sculpture."

Past Walters' 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 on 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 Mille Lacs Lake 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.