Matt McLellan wants to take the pizza industry to new levels and he's found an unusual mentor to help him get there.

Slice of life

What do a 74-year-old Bostonian and a 35-year-old local pizzeria owner have in common? Drive, enthusiasm, humility — and long bike rides.

"Boston" Bill Hansbury, avid cyclist and former marathon runner, lost his right leg in 2007 when a virulent staph infection attacked his foot. But Hansbury never let it hold him back. On the contrary, he went above and beyond and established The Boston Bill Foundation, Inc. to provide financial assistance to those who cannot afford a prosthetic limb.

He also reaches out on a personal level, frequently visiting amputee patients in hospitals and in their homes. Physical therapists request visits from Boston Bill to motivate progress in certain patients.

Boston Bill is a kind, generous soul, but does not tolerate a pity party. "Instead of wallowing in it, move past it, no matter how tough it gets. All it takes is one revolution of a bike, or one step," he says. He taught this concept to a man who would not budge from his wheelchair, despite being an amputee for nine months. Shortly after Boston Bill's visit, he was out of his wheelchair.

In 2008, Matt McLellan opened Tour de Pizza, a gourmet pizzeria in St. Petersburg. He believes so much in his product — "Pizza is the healthiest fast food, and provides well-rounded nutrition," he says — that he became a spokesperson for the pizza industry.

In 2009, he attracted local and national media attention with his 30 Day Pizza Diet. He created the diet to prove that people can lose weight and stay healthy eating only pizza (with various nutritional toppings), while exercising. Then he upped the ante by announcing he would ride his bike from Tampa to New York City, to prove that pizza and fitness go hand in hand. "I want to be the first person to build lean muscle and endurance while eating pizza," he said.

As an industry cheerleader, McLellan wants to improve the reputation of "pizza as a lifestyle." He vows that "my diet can be done by anyone, anywhere. They can buy a cheese pizza from any pizzeria and add their own toppings."

Boston Bill heard about McLellan's goals and visited Tour de Pizza to meet him; a bond was formed immediately. When McLellan told Boston Bill that he wanted to ride his bike to New York City, Bill was eager to support the venture. He'd ridden from Boston to Tampa himself before, so he was no stranger to extreme-distance cycling.

McLellan promotes Boston Bill's foundation by keeping a donation box in his pizzeria to "give him a voice in the community." He also takes inspiration from Bill's example. "I learned to push myself to the limit, especially seeing people like Boston Bill."

The 30 Day Pizza Diet is viewed in many quarters as a fad, so McLellan hopes his current venture will prove otherwise. On New Year's Eve, he will announce a pizza challenge in Times Square, urging the nation to go on his diet for 90 days. He knows that Boston Bill will be there for support, every revolution and step of the way.

"I don't need money. As long as I have Boston Bill in my life, I'm rich," says McLellan. "I'm honored to know him and be his friend."

Boston Bill views McLellan as his protégé. "He always surprises me, and thinks enough of me to include me in his successes. I feel like I'm vested and take pleasure in those successes."

A recent success was McLellan's fourth-place finish in the United States Pizza Championship with his "MAClellan" pizza. And Boston Bill enjoyed a recent triumph, too: he completed a 3,500-mile bike ride from Huntington Beach, California to Vero Beach with Amputees Across America.

For information on Boston Bill Foundation, visit bostonbill.org; for information on Matt McLellan, visit tourdepizza.com. Tour de Pizza: 212 37th Ave N., St. Pete, 727-898-5555.

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