FORT MILL -- The asphalt on U.S. 21 felt like a frying pan at midmorning Friday, but Andy Mandell didn't seem to notice.
The man who calls himself "Mr. Diabetes" endures the heat for a cause: Encouraging fellow diabetics to get help.
Mandell's walk around the country took him through York County in much the same way it has everywhere else: He woke at 4 a.m., laced up a pair of faded New Balance sneakers, pulled on a green reflective vest -- and struck out on the road.
Four hours after starting in Pineville, N.C., he crested a hill just north of the Catawba River to begin the downhill push into Rock Hill.
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"I had to do something in a meaningful way that would draw attention," he said about his campaign, now in its seventh year. "I'm proving that by following good health rules, a diabetic can survive."
The 62-year-old Boston native has walked 8,592 miles, hoping to spotlight a disease that afflicts an estimated 21 million Americans. Another 6 million are diabetic but don't know it.
It's an unusual way to promote a cause, but Mandell is an unusual guy. He holds a black belt in martial arts and collects folk albums. At 6-foot-4 with long hair and a mustache, he looks like a cross between Hulk Hogan and David Crosby.
Sometimes drivers don't notice the resemblance until they swerve around him.
"He almost got hit twice this morning," said Russell Barriger, who drives alongside in a Land Rover emblazoned with the name of their Web site. "Some guy, he was veering right off the road."
Barriger and his wife, Shirley, joined Mandell as "tour managers" last spring, motivated by watching their youngest son, Adam, cope with the disease.
Most days, Mandell walks 10 miles before the Barrigers drive him back to their RV at a campground. He hopes to finish a 10,000-mile perimeter walk around the United States by late next year.
"I'm here to let people know if you're diabetic," he said, "it isn't the end of the story."
• For details on Mandell's walk, visit www.defeatdiabetes.org.
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