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Chris Figureida is riding his bike across the country as a volunteer with the American Heart Association. Roosevelt third-grader Skylyn Perdue helped Figureida as he explained to students life on the road and what he carried with him.

Cross Country Biker makes pit stop in Detroit Lakes

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A California man riding his bike across the United States made a pit stop in Detroit Lakes recently, hoping his passion for fitness would rub off on local children.

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Chris Figureida, 30, is a volunteer with the American Heart Association on a bike ride from Fort Kent, Maine to Neah Bay, Wash. -- a 4,200-mile trip.

Somewhere in the middle of that trip lies Roosevelt and Rossman Elementary Schools in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota -- a perfect place to stop, rest and inspire.

"How cool!" said Roosevelt third grader Kylie Swiers, "I don't think I could even ride my bike for a mile!"

Figureida told a gym-full of students all about his adventures on the road -- everything from his encounters with poisonous spiders and African lions to a close encounter with a tornado.

He showed the curious students his bike and all the lightweight camping gear he carries with him.

This is the fourth trip he's been on with the American Heart Association.

Figureida doesn't get paid, but he gets all his gear, including clothes and food stipends from a variety of sponsors and receives donations from all over the country.

"But I'm a 100 percent charitable non-profit, so everything I take in goes back to the American Heart Association and to Rotary International -- that's who co-sponsors me for places to stay."

This is Figureida's fifth cross-country trip, which should take him about two months if he averages about 80 miles a day.

Although Figureida captures children's attention with action-packed stories of adventure, his inspiration for doing this comes from a trip he made to Kenya, where he worked with people providing hospice for HIV/ Aids victims.

"Seeing these people who had given up their friends, family, possessions, and careers to do hospice care on these people, I couldn't help but want to be a part of that." But Figureida's passion and talents weren't as much in medical care as it was health care -- specifically fitness.

So he used his bike as a tool to inspire kids across America to put down their processed, sugar-filled foods and pick up a physical activity.

He hit the road, taking his first bike ride across the United States four years ago.

"And I got such an overwhelming response, I thought, well, I'll just keep doing it," said Figureida, who says he hopes to help children across the United States tackle childhood obesity.

When Roosevelt Physical Education Teacher Kris Nelson heard of Figureida's trip, she and her husband, Rossman Elementary Principal Sandy Nelson, offered to put him up for the night so that he could possibly inspire Detroit Lakes students.

"We need to try every way we can to get these kids to eat right and get exercise," said Kris Nelson, "and I was thinking if this could just even hit four or five kids and make them realize that this is good for them and get them thinking about this at an early age, that's great."

When Figureida isn't talking to kids, he's talking to legislators who have the power to affect kids through laws and initiatives -- like a $3 million Safe Routes to School funding bill up for debate in Minnesota in February.

"That's something I am lobbying very hard for," said Figureida, "because right now childhood obesity cost about $130 million a year. That number balloons to $100 billion by they time they're adults. We already know this generation is going to live two to five years less than the one before, so the consequences for the country and these kids is dire."

And while Figureida makes his presentation to the kids seem a little less dire and a little more fun, he hopes it results in change.

"I'm not trying to tell them about obesity necessarily, but just maybe inspire them to make a difference in the world by starting with themselves and some healthy habits," said Figureida, who also doesn't expect everybody to "bike across the country like a crazy guy" to live a healthy life.

"That'd be pretty hard for me to do because I don't think the tires on my bike are good enough for it," said third grader Ale Rousu very seriously, "but it does make me want to exercise more. I like to do it anyway."

For more information on Figureida's travels, log onto cycle@cycleforheart.org.

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