Erik Bendl has the World in his Hands for Diabetes Awareness
Diabetes awareness walks have become very popular and Erik Bendl (also known as World Guy) has taken advocacy to a whole new level. While walking more than 5,000 miles through 37 states with his dog Nice and rolling a six-foot-tall painted world ball (the World), Erik is raising awareness and money for the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and is particularly passionate about managing diabetes and finding a cure.
Q: When did you start walking for diabetes awareness?
A: My first walk for the American Diabetes Association was in 1999 from Louisville, Kentucky, which is where I live, to Lexington, Kentucky. I walked a total of 160 miles over nine days during the ADA’s Alert Week, now an Alert Day.
I did that walk in memory of my mother, Gerta Bendl, who lived with type 2 diabetes. She was a Kentucky state representative who put others before herself and her diabetes management and blood sugar control. I remember her campaigning door-to-door and walking precincts during elections and annual fundraising walkathons. That occasional, extreme activity would leave her bedridden as it was her only form of exercise. In fact, in the years leading up to her death in 1987, she suffered from diabetes-related complications. Perhaps, if she had information and had been more aware of the long-term effects of uncontrolled blood sugar, she may have lived longer.
Q: The World is a signature mark for you. Where did you get it and why did you decide to start taking it with you when you walk?
A: The World came from a summer camp for children that I assisted at in the ‘80s where it was used for team building exercises. A couple years later, they were planning to throw it away, so I decided to take it. It stayed in my basement for close to ten years until I inflated it for my son’s seventh birthday party. After the party we continued to play with it, but it was too big for the backyard so we took it to the park. During that time, literally hundreds of people asked me where I was going, where I had been and what my cause was.
Remembering my mother’s struggle with diabetes led me to my cause. A friend put me in touch with the local ADA chapter and they helped me coordinate everything for my first walk with the World, which was really successful. It made me realize that the walk was much bigger than the Alert Week and the impact that it had on my mother.
Q: What made you decide to continue doing more long-distance walks?
A: After the first walk I wanted to do another one the next year, but things just didn’t work out. Several years later my uncle, who had been living with diabetes since he was in his forties like my mother, was about to turn 80. He was in the Pittsburgh area so I decided to honor him by walking from Louisville, Kentucky to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I did it to get the word out that if you have diabetes and you take care of yourself like my uncle, you are more likely to be there for your grandchildren.
Q: What has been your favorite place to walk?
A: The walks all kind of blend together. It’s more about moments, sights and the people I meet. One great memory I have is of the full moon illuminating Mount Washington. Known for some of the strongest winds on land, I worked my way up the road of Mount Washington against fifty to seventy mile per hour winds, struggling for every step. I also fought to maintain my balance as the winds spun, bounced and skipped the World, which was toggled to me by a leash. That climb pushed me to my limits. I had to deflate the eighty-pound World and carry it back down the mountain. Through the struggle that night, I saw one of the most beautiful moon-lit nights of my life.
I also walked to the top of Pike’s Peak with my dog Nice and the World in honor of my uncle’s 82nd birthday. The “Barr Trail” on the east side of Pike’s Peak starts at 8,000 feet and goes up to 14,120 feet. It usually takes people twelve hours to complete, but for me, it was a three day walk and one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I put the World over my head, balanced it atop railings and overlooked the sharp drop down the mountainside to get it out of the way for everyone who passed me on their way up or down. When I neared the top, I was flooded with emotion, exhausted from the thin air in the high altitude, and accepted help in order to reach the summit. Though my pride suffered, it helped me realize we can’t get through life without help; especially when it comes to diabetes. As much as you try to do it all by yourself, sometimes you need somebody who cares standing beside you to say, “Dude, you’re kind of looking funny. You need to eat something to increase your blood sugar.” A man said just that on the mountain as he handed me an energy packet. I remember the many people I connected with on the mountain as much as the mountain climb itself.
However, the all-time best moments are when someone I met for just a second reaches out to me to say they have taken up walking.
Q: What keeps you motivated to continue walking?
A: I first started doing this in honor of my mother, but now it has grown into an individual movement. If I can get one person to love and start taking care of themselves, to make one small change, to be there for their family – that’s what keeps me going. It is an epidemic disease and you can do so much to help yourself or someone you know become healthy. I’m just hoping that I’m making a difference in some small way.
It seems to me like Erik is making a difference in a big way! His dedication to the cause is admirable and commendable. A big thanks to Erik for sharing his story and best of luck to him on his future endeavors.
All the best,
Disclosure: Erik Bendl received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.