03 February 2011

Man rolls globe around USA for diabetes

Erik Bendl is pushing a globe all over the US raising awareness about diabetes. His travels began after his mother died of complications from diabetes.


Erik Bendl is pushing a globe all over the United States. He's happy to do it - and he wants you to ask why.

His travels began after his mother died of complications from diabetes in 1987. Greta Bendl was 54. 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.

A reporter who saw Bendl and his son playing with the 6-foot globe asked Bendl if he would walk with it for charity; Bendl said yes, in honour of his mother.

How it all began

In the late 1990s, he did a 160-mile walk around Kentucky to promote the American Diabetes Association. He started 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, 690 kilometres.

It turned out he enjoyed being on the road. 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, the 48-year-old Bendl has walked more than 3,540 kilometres 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 16 kilometres and usually meets a kind person who gives him and Nice a ride back to his van. He sleeps in the van and starts fresh the next day.

Being crazy

"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 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 US 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 food to his dog named 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," he said. "But this is one of those 'it's not the destination, but the journey,' journeys."

 (Sapa, Tamara Lush, February 2011)

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