Utah Boy Mows State Capitol Lawns, Grows Organ Donor Awareness

Coming to a state capitol near you soon is "Lawn Mower Boy." Fourteen-year-old Ryan Tripp from Parowan, Utah - also known as Lawn Mower Boy - is out to set a new Guinness Book World Record by cutting the grass at each state capitol. But setting records is second to his desire to increase awareness about organ and tissue donation around the country.

Tripp started his mowing marathon June 1 in his home state accompanied by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt. He subsequently mowed a portion of lawn at the capitols in Nevada, California, Oregon, and Washington. Then Lawn Mower Boy and his entourage flew to Juneau, Alaska where he borrowed a lawn mower to cut the grass at Gov. Tony Knowles' house because there is little lawn at the capitol. The capitols in Phoenix, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico do not have lawns either, so Tripp will cut the grass at the governors' homes there too.

His last stop will be in the Aloha State of Hawaii on Monday, Aug. 9.

Tripp already has one world record under his belt for the longest lawn mower drive. He got it when he rode his riding mower 3,116 miles to Washington, D.C. from Salt Lake City during the summer of 1997 to raise money for then six-month old Whitnie Pender of Beaver, Utah, who needed a liver transplant.

Tripp raised $13,000 for Pender. Averaging 10 mph on his unusual conveyance, Tripp traveled through 19 states and made it to Washington, D.C. in 42 days.

His efforts on Pender's behalf sparked his interest in organ and tissue donation. The little girl got the transplant she needed, and is now a healthy two year old.

"I love meeting all kinds of people and setting another record will be fun. The best part is I can help save people's lives and show that kids really can make a difference," Tripp says.

Tripp spent a day fishing in Alaska Tuesday -- his favorite stop so far because "it is kind of like a little vacation." Thursday he will mow the lawn at Idaho's state capitol in Boise.

Tripp said he knows of only two people so far who have been inspired by him to become organ donors -- his aunt, and a California woman who met him in Sacramento -- but he is still getting the message out.

There are nearly 64,000 patients nationwide awaiting an organ transplant. The Department of Health and Human Services says that although 20,000 Americans -- about 55 each day -- receive transplantation each year, about 4,000 people -- 10 each day -- die while awaiting a donated organ.

At each stop local organ transplant agencies have joined Tripp in his effort to get people to become organ donors and to notify their families of their decison. Although anyone who wishes to be a donor can so specify when applying for a driver's license, they also need to tell their next of kin. The next of kin must give consent for the organs of a family member to be harvested.

To be recognized by the Guinness Book of Records, Tripp must mow at least 1,000 square feet at each capitol. Sponsors of his 75-day trip include Ariens Lawnmowers, who donated two riding mowers that normally cost about $8,000 each, and Airstream Inc., which loaned Tripp a motor home.

The non-profit Coalition on Organ and Tissue Donation is paying for lodging and meals along the way. In all, Tripp has raised about $90,000 in goods and money for the trip.

Tripp even has his own Web site: www.lawnmowerboy.com, which keeps tabs on his daily agenda and posts pictures and journal entries from his trip. Tripp can receive e-mails on the road and respond using his laptop computer.

His mother, Diane, two sisters, brother and both sets of grandparents are accompanying him while his father, Todd, stays at home to run the family landscaping business.

Tripp appeared on the David Letterman show in 1997, and arrangements are being made for him to appear on the Jay Leno show after he completes his current expedition. But, when he isn't on national television or shaking hands with governors, he spends his time playing basketball with his friends at the local church gym, participating in the Boy Scouts, studying, and of course, mowing lawns.

He will be in the 9th grade next school year and wants to go to the University of North Carolina after he graduates from Parowan High School. At 5 feet 4 inches, Tripp said he is too short to become a pro-basketball player, so instead aspires to be a sports announcer.

Tripp receives no jokes from his friends in Utah about his lawn-mowing hobby. "They think it is pretty cool," he said.