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Man hugs, high-fives in Las Vegas and across America

Updated July 30, 2017 - 8:50 pm

High-five, hug, smile, repeat.

That’s been David Sylvester’s cycle of positivity since he embarked on a hugging and high-fiving tour late last month.

“I think we’re just too cynical as a society,” he said. “I’m trying to bring some genuineness back.”

Sylvester, 52, spent Sunday in Las Vegas spreading good vibes at the Las Vegas Market in the World Market Center. As he walked through aisles of exhibitors, people stopped to slap his large hands.

“Thank you for your smile,” Sylvester would say as he kept walking.

The self-described foul-mouthed nice guy, who hails from Philadelphia, is shooting for 25,000 hugs or high fives — they count the same — by Sept. 15. Since June 26, he’s tallied more than 6,700.

“You know the thought behind the whole thing?” exhibitor Jay Crowdus asked after Sylvester hugged him. “I think it’s obvious. Love wins.”

The barrel-chested, broad-shouldered, 6-foot-3 inch, 250-pound Sylvester, appropriately known as Big Dave, gives a hug that’s firm but not hard. Secure but not overbearing. The high five is strong, partly because his biceps are as big as regulation-size volleyballs. He’s aware of his size and isn’t too forceful.

Sylvester’s hugging, high-fiving world tour started Sept. 11, 2001, when his friend Kevin was killed while working on the 97th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

He said Kevin would have wanted him to do something positive after the tragedy.

“I can just hear him in my head,” said Sylvester, who works as a personal trainer. “‘Just do something. Do something, do something.’”

To honor his fallen friend, Sylvester took off on a cross-country bike ride in June of the following year. That evolved into bike rides that traversed America three times, with long-distance runs across Africa, Asia and Australia over the next several years.

Along the way, he volunteered at charities and wrote and self-published a book. He started hugging and high-fiving to promote that book, “Traveling at the Speed of Life.”

Since 2001, Sylvester has hugged or high-fived about 200,000 people.

“I think Kevin would get a kick out of it,” he said.

Earlier this year, Sylvester emailed his story to Duke Cannon, a men’s soap company, for a potential sponsorship. Company co-founder Sam Swartz was intrigued.

“There was something about him like, ‘Don’t delete this,’” Swartz said.

Swartz said he wanted his company associated with something positive, so he brought Sylvester on board for a summer road tour to dole out high fives and hugs. A sponsorship from Advantage Rent a Car also helped Sylvester get from stop to stop.

By Sunday, Sylvester had reached 23 states in the country’s lower half. He makes his hugging and high-fiving stops anywhere from bars to wedding chapels.

Sylvester said his ultimate aim is challenging people to just be better.

“Don’t walk away from a better version of you,” he said.

Sylvester knows someone will try to break his hug and high-five total someday. He suggests they eat their Wheaties in the morning.

“I’m not going to make it easy for them,” he said.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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