Lions Club member bikes across the U.S. for leader dogs

Mike Mansell spends time in Little Falls; tours the city on his bike

Fifty-two-year-old Mike Mansell, a member of the LaCenter, Washington Lions Club, is biking across the United States raising money for Leader Dogs for the Blind, a Lions program. The superintendent of schools in LaCenter, and a Lion, he plans on finishing in Portland, Ore., the first week in August.

Mansell is connecting with Lions Clubs across the country to teach about the Leader Dog program and the service it provides.

Traveling across the country for the Lions program Leader Dogs For the Blind, Mark Mansell stopped in Little Falls to meet the local Lions, see the city and raise money for the program. He is biking from Portland, Ore. to Portland, Me. and hopes to raise more than $35,000. Mansell is pictured with his bike and trailer in front of the Waller House Bed and Breakfast in Little Falls where he was given a room gratis. Brandl Motors also loaned him a vehicle during his stay in town.

“I wanted to see if I could do this,” Mansell said. “I have always pushed myself, doing marathons and one ultramarathon (a race between 30 and 50 miles). I have won three marathons in Portland for my age group. I have also cross-trained by doing dual marathons—biking and running.”

A colleague of Mansell’s does bicycling tours. At first he thought his friend was nuts.

“But, for some reason, I could not get the idea out of my mind,” he said. “My wife, Debbie, and I did some short trips with a local bicycle club and we bicycled for 12 days on the big island of Hawaii.”

About four years ago he first learned about the Leader Dog program. He was hooked. In April, he and Debbie toured the program’s home base in Rochester Hills, Mich. They were amazed with the work being done there.

“When I told Debbie I wanted to bicycle across the United States, she brought up the idea of riding for Leader Dogs. I e-mailed the Lions administration and they gave me the OK,” said Mansell.

Mansell is asking for sponsorships at one cent per mile. He figures he will travel about 3,500 miles, so is asking for $35. For that, the sponsor receives a pin that matches the design on his shirt and the knowledge each has helped the Lions Leader Dog program. To date, Mansell has raised more than $30,000 and hopes to reach the $35,000 mark.

All the money raised will go to the Leader Dog program.

To help train for the ride, Mansell rode 380 miles from home to Spokane, Wash., in three days while the temperatures soared to around 100 degrees.

“I made it, so I knew I could make the trip across the country,” he said. “I got my school board’s approval to be gone for much of the summer. We stay in contact electronically.”

Mansell rides an average of 90 miles per day on the days he bikes and has traveled a combination of routes set up by Adventure Cycling Association. One is the Lewis and Clark route and the other is the Northern Tier route. He started from home, traveled through Washington and Idaho to Missoula, Mont. Then took Interstate 90 to Billings and across North Dakota on Interstate 94 to Fargo. From there, he took Highway 10 to Little Falls.

When he left Little Falls Wednesday, Mansell’s plans to cross Wisconsin and Michigan before entering Ontario.

“Through the next two states I have festivals, Lions meetings and speaking engagements to attend,” he said. “I need to seize all opportunities to speak about the Leader Dog program.”

Arriving in Little Falls Monday afternoon, Mansell took the cycling tour of Little Falls Tuesday, put on by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The tour included visits to the Charles Lindbergh home, Linden Hill, the Waller House, Minnesota Fishing Museum and Pine Grove Zoo.

That evening he attended a barbecue at Lions Park, put on by the Little Falls Dandee Lions.

“There is no better way to challenge myself, teach others about the Lions Club and the Leader Dog program and see the country,” Mansell said.

The people Mansell has met along the way have been the most amazing part of the adventure. People see the shirt he wears and ask him questions, tell him their personal stories concerning leader dogs and even drag him to the local newspaper for a story.

“When I was in Billings, Mont., near the Yellowstone River, a pickup truck drove by, the occupants staring at me. They turned around, stopped and asked me what I was up to. I told them and the driver said, ‘You don’t look the type to kill us,’ and proceeded to invite me to dinner.

“In Livingston, Mont., a van stopped and out jumped one of my second grade students from LaCenter who knew I was cycling across the country and was following my progress. She was visiting relatives in Montana,” he said.

Mansell said he is living the dream.

“It’s not a task to be cycling across the country, but a great trip, traveling in all types of weather, seeing it all, stopping whenever I want and doing what I want,” he said. “And all for a good cause.”

The Lions Leader Dog program officially began in 1939, in Detroit, Mich. It currently has a $10 million budget of which half comes from endowments and half from local Lions Clubs.

To follow Mansell’s blog, go to www.leaderdog.org.

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