Man, globe roll around U.S. for diabetes awareness

COCOA, Fla.  — Erik Bendl is pushing the weight of the world all over the country, and he's happy to do it.

He's 48 years old, from Louisville, Ky. and is walking thousands of miles across the U.S. with his dog, whose name is "Nice."

He's also accompanied by a giant globe.

But first, the backstory — we'll get to the globe in a moment.

His travels began after his mother — a Kentucky state representative — died of complications from diabetes in 1987.


Greta Bendl was 54, too young. Her death haunted Bendl, who was then working as a carpenter. He wanted to do something, anything, to show that his mother's death wasn't in vain.

The answer lay in his garage: a giant globe given to him by a friend in 1988. When his son was little, Bendl would pump air into the 6-foot high sphere made of canvas with a waterbed innertube and play in the park. Bendl painted the oceans on it blue and the continents green.

A reporter who saw Bendl and his son playing asked Bendl if he would be interested in walking with the globe for charity; Bendl said yes, in honor of his mother.

In the late 1990s, he did a 160-mile walk around Kentucky to promote the American Diabetes Association. He started calling the globe "A giant Earth ball," or, occasionally, "The World," and calling himself World Guy.

For about seven years, he and the globe walked in parades around Kentucky. He got divorced. His son grew up. Then in 2007, Bendl did his first long walk — Louisville to Pittsburgh, 430 miles.

It turned out he enjoyed being on the road, with few possessions. Bendl talks to everyone about diabetes — about his mother, about how important it is to exercise, how diabetes can be controlled. He says he donates money to diabetes awareness groups, such as the ADA and the Diabetes Exercise and Sports Association.

Today, Bendl has walked more than 2,200 miles in 23 states with the globe. He's been as far east as Acadia National Park in Maine and as far west as Pike's Peak in Colorado. He's hit New York City and Washington, D.C.

He's on his fifth long walk now, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Savannah, Ga. Each day he walks 10 miles and usually meets a kind person (Bendl calls these random folks his "support team") who gives him and Nice a ride back to his van. He drives the van near to where he ended his walk, sleeps in the van and starts fresh the next day.


"They don't ask me if I'm crazy — they tell me I'm crazy," Bendl said, laughing.

He chronicles his travels and the people he meets on his blog, tapping out entries on a Blackberry he keeps on a cord around his neck. He also has a Facebook fan page.

Bendl has written about a woman who recounted her problems with diabetes, of the strong winds that make pushing the globe difficult and about the minutiae of each day.

"All plans get changed and I have been rerouted to begin at Jupiter Fire station to walk up US 1... Wish me luck," he wrote on Jan. 15.

This week a middle school teacher wrote on Bendl's Facebook page that she used his trek to open up a discussion with her students.

On a recent day, Bendl, Nice and the globe were on U.S. 1 in Cocoa, Fla., a particularly dusty, suburban stretch of road without a sidewalk. Bendl walked past a Discount Muffler, past a Budget Inn, and past a Burger King. It wasn't pretty, yet Bendl was smiling. The sun was shining, someone had given dog food to Nice, and he had already talked to dozens of people about diabetes.

"On my other walks, I've had a set place I was going to make it to and I just was sitting at home a few weeks ago and I realized I could pay my bills and open up my schedule for a couple months," he said. "And so this is one of those 'it's not the destination, but the journey,' journeys."

And he rolled on.

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