Andy Mandell finished his eight-year, 10,031-mile walk back in December 2008. The journey that feat symbolized, however, is far from over for the 70-year-old diabetes advocate.

From the brink to the road

Mandell, better known today as Mr. Diabetes, set off on the Wake Up and Walk Tour to start conversations with strangers about diabetes. Motivation for the mission came after being bedridden for two years with severe, life-threatening neuropathy—or loss of feeling in parts of the body, due to his personal diagnosis.

“In 1985, when I was diagnosed with diabetes,” remembers Mandell, “I was finding out there wasn’t information to guide me and help me.” He wanted to prevent that from happening to other people.

Promoting prevention

Getting an annual A1C test to check for diabetes signs is one of the best prevention methods all adults, regardless of age, can take to curb the potentially deadly disease. Mandell points that out, and also advises those with diabetes to share their struggles with their loved ones.

“'I never lost sight of the diabetes, and that was the focus: the people I would meet every single day and sharing that information.'”

These are some of the subjects Mandell discussed with the over 78,000 people he met circling the perimeter of the United States, including his hometown of St. Petersburg in Florida, Boston, or the small Georgia city Madison.

“It was a stage for people to ask questions, share their concerns and experiences with me and the Defeat Diabetes Foundation,” he sums. “It was also a wonderful opportunity to talk with people one on one and share what knowledge we knew and are learning along the way.”

A difficult road

The walk wasn’t without its trials, however. Mandell tore through 25 pairs of shoes, his favorite New Balance and Brooks sneakers, and he also struggled with neuropathy along the way. “I couldn’t feel when stones and pebbles got into my shoes, and every day at the end of my walk my feet would be pretty bloody,” he says. “I’d have to treat the wounds and take care of my feet.”

Still, the motivation to spread awareness of diabetes kept Mandell strong, sometimes even in the face of inclement or 100-plus degree weather.

“I never lost sight of the diabetes, and that was the focus: the people I would meet every single day and sharing that information,” he says. “I was living in the moment and talking to people in the moment.”

These days, Mandell is collaborating with the Defeat Diabetes Foundation to create new awareness videos, including some that detail workout routines. But he said another walk is “always on the table,” especially because he didn’t visit the U.S. states at the center of the country—states like Kansas, Nebraska and Kentucky, which have some of the highest diabetes rates nationwide.

Still, Mandell is hopeful. The Walk, he says, “has legs that seem to keep going forever.”