Short of donating one of his own kidneys, Ryan Tripp has already done more to promote organ and tissue donation than most people twice his age.
He raised $15,000 for a baby's liver transplant. He visited every capital in the nation to carry a message about the need for donors. And he set two Guinness world records in the process. Now, at 23, "the lawn-mower boy" is once again spreading the word as a student at University of Utah.
Tripp is currently interning with Intermountain Donor Services, where he is working of course to educate the public on the importance of organ and tissue donation. According to
Tripp, the number of registered donors in Utah recently topped 1.1 million.
"Everyone deserves to pat themselves on the back, but there is still a great need for donors," he said.
Tripp first started promoting organ donation in 1997, at the age of 12. Up to that point, lawn mowers were for cutting grass, and "organ" donors gave away large musical instruments.
One summer day, Tripp and his father, whom he describes as "a dreamer and a schemer," drove a lawn mower to town a 10-mile trip because the truck had broken down while they were out mowing lawns. And on the way, they joked about driving one all the way across the country.
But soon after, they learned about Whitnie Pender, a 4-month-old girl in his hometown of Beaver who needed a liver transplant. Suddenly, that joke took on a more serious tone. The Tripps put their heads together and soon they were headed east. Ryan rode a lawn mower 3,116 miles across the nation, collecting money along the way.
"It was good to travel the nation at 10 mph ... to see the goodness of America," he said. He added that the people he encountered were very generous, and it was not uncommon for people to bring him $100 bills. The trip took 42 days, and it rained five of those. He got sunburned, and his sandy hair was bleached blond by the sun. When it was all said and done, Ryan collected $15,000 for Whitnie's liver transplant, and he earned the 1997 Guinness world record for the longest lawn-mower ride. And in the process, people started calling him "the lawn-mower boy."
During the summer of 1999, Tripp decided to fire up the lawn mower again to make another plug for organ and tissue donation. This time though, the lawn mower was hauled by truck and trailer to all 50 states. In each state, the Tripp family visited the capital, where Ryan mowed 1,000 square feet of grass to make his point, encouraging people everywhere to become organ and tissue donors.
When he started college, he didn't immediately know what career he wanted to pursue. "I knew I didn't want to mow lawns for the rest of my life," he said. Tripp finally decided on a communications major, with an emphasis on public relations, which ultimately led to his internship with Intermountain Donor Services.
While he is with IDS, Tripp is working with area schools to teach the public about how it can affect a family to receive the gift of life. In his case, Whitnie Pender is now a happy, healthy 11-year-old girl living a perfectly normal life.
One aspect he has enjoyed during his internship is learning about the behind-the-scenes processes involved in organ donation. He is currently on a list of people who will be called to fly by helicopter to retrieve an organ as soon as one becomes available."It has been really awesome to gain all this PR and marketing experience while promoting something that's really important to me," he said.