Navigating the globe for a cause
PLYMOUTH - Erik Bendl has the world on a string, literally, as he walks across the country with his dog Nice, bringing awareness about diabetes to the people that he meets. Bendl rolls a giant 80 loaned inflatable ball painted like the world across the United States in the name of his cause.
He was interviewed for a profile piece about his mother, a Kentucky state representative, who died of diabetes. The inspiration for his walk for awareness was sparked by the journalist that interviewed him.
"During that conversation we talked one, about my mother dying from diabetes, and two, about if I was to do some kind of walk what would I do it for, and diabetes just seemed the logical thing," stated Bendl.
After getting in touch with the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Bendl completed a 160 mile walk from 1998 to 1999.
But Bendl first started his awareness treks across the country in 2007, when he decided to walk to his uncle's 80 birthday party being held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. He started walking with his mixed mutt Nice and the two have travelled almost 8,000 miles by the "world guy's" estimation.
Over time, Bendl's message has changed.
"My message has now gone from well if you have it, take care of yourself or prevent it by some sort of activity," said Bendl, citing his uncle, now 87, who has lived a healthy life.
Bendl has had the ball since 1985, when he "saved the world" from being tossed out by an old school who used it in play activities, for his then seven year old son.
Having travelled through 42 contiguous states, Michigan will mark his 43, having never been there at all. He started in Louisville and has travelled up 31, from Columbus, to Indianapolis, hitting Bloomington, Lafayette, and now Plymouth, before heading to South Bend, the last large city before his stately destination.
Carrying the weight of the world in his hands isn't always easy, but Bendl thinks he's helped make a difference in the lives of those he's met.
"In the process I've met a lot of people who've changed their lives using me as some sort of impetus, they call me back and tell me so," he said. "I think that I've learned for myself that eating better you go farther. You shouldn't put diesel fuel in a jet engine, that's one one guy said to me, and another old guy said exercise is the fountain of youth."
Bendl travelled through Argos, leaving his van behind while he walks the day's journey. His good people system, or GPS, is fed by average samaritans who will give him meals, water, or drive him back to his van, which he then leap frog's to his ending point, while he tethers the world to a safe place.
"I learned early on in these walks that when everything takes care of itself, there's always good people that will help me out if I'm in need," he said. "As long as I'm walking, things seem to take care of themselves."
Every so often, he has to patch up the world and fill her up with air. Gauging temperature and weather conditions, the giant world contracts and expands, sometimes tearing a little at the seams. But fixing her up, Bendl just keeps rolling.
On his trips, Bendl's belief that exercise is good for you has been confined by those he's met.
"You learn all kinds of things on the road. It's where my Phd is now," he explained. "Everybody's testimony that exercise is good and that you can turn diabetes around, lose weight, or you can manage your diabetes, I've got examples from just the first three people I met today."
Bendl would make his way to the local laundromat before heading north to his final destination, the state line, another 31 miles.
"If you roll, they will come," said Bendl jokingly.
While he and his companion are wearing on in years, Nice at seven and a half, and himself at 52, Bendl doesn't have any plans to stop now.
"It seems I'm a rolling metaphor. My final words of advice: Love yourself, go for a walk."
Erik Bendl, known also as World Guy, blogs at worldguy.org, where he tells about his travels with the world in his hands.
This piece originally ran in the July 18 Pilot News paper.