Man Dedicates His Life to Diabetes. And He’s Not Even Diabetic. Why? How?

Posted on August 2, 2011


The other day, I had the pleasure of interviewing (via phone) the World Guy – aka Erik Bendl.

Erik walks 10+ miles a day with a 6 foot canvas globe/ball and his big, brown dog named Nice.  He has walked over 2,200 miles throughout the United States.  Why?  Because he wants to spread the word about diabetes. 

And he wants to honor his mother, Greta Bendl.  Greta died at the young age of 54 due to congestive heart failure (as a result of diabetes).  Back then, women did not walk, exercise, or sweat.  It was not the thing to do.  Her job was to take care of her family.  This resulted in diabetic complications like congestive heart failure.  So Erik walks for his mother and diabetes.  He, also, mentions an 84 year uncle with diabetes.  Another reason to spread the word and to get exercise (hoping he will not be diagnosed with diabetes).

When I called Erik, he was in Minnesota.  They were just starting their daily walk.  He asked me to call back in 2 minutes so they(Erik and his dog) could find shade.  I honored his request and called him back in two minutes.  Shade had been found.

I must admit, I was intrigued and could not wait to talk with him. 

Michele:  So tell me about yourself.  How did all this start? 

Erik:  I was a carpenter in Louisville, KY for many years.  I built mansions for people and went to work every day.  However, 13 years ago, I hurt my back at work.  This was probably the lowest point in my life.  I could no longer work.  The twitching and spasms in my back were unbearable.  The only thing I could do without too much pain was walk.  So I started walking.  And felt better.  After 3 years of walking, I was able to build muscles up in my back .  The pain got better.  And activity like walking gets the juices going. 

Erik:  I hate walking.  I hate exercise.  But I do it.  Wind. Rain. Hills.  Mud. 

Michele:  How did walking around Louisville turn into walking around the United States?

Erik:  In the late 1990’s I walked 160 miles around Kentucky.  And then in 2007, I did my first long walk from Louisville to Pittsburg – 430 miles.

Michele:  Wow.  That is great.

As we talk, there is a pause on his side.  I hear him say “thank you” to someone. 

Erik:  A woman just gave me an apple.  I survive by the kindness in people.  People feed me well.  That’s why I am fat.  A 50-year-old man who has always been a fat boy.  My whole life.  5″10″ and 255-275 pounds.  Which is another reason I walk. 

Erik:  If this fat boy can walk, anyone can do it.

Michele:  Very true.

Michele:  So you walk 10+ miles a day?

Erik:  We average 10 miles a day.  Yesterday we walked 20  miles.  Some days 14.  11.  7.  If we walk more than 13 it is hard on us.

Michele:  What about your dog Nice.  How does he handle these long walks?

Erik:  The big, brown dog loves walking.  He beats the heat by jumping in puddles, swimming in ponds and streams.  He was in the Iowa River a few days ago.  And people give him food. 

Michele:  I can tell that you truly are thankful for the generosity of people.  Speak to that a bit.

Erik:  Whatever people give me, I eat.  It may be my 10th bottle of water for the day, but I take it.  Eggs.  Pancakes.  I go by the way the wind blows.  Everyday, I meet lots of people – town folk.  I meet the kids. Talk with these people.  These nice folks even give me a ride back to my van when I am done walking for the day.  Nice (the dog) and I sleep in the van and then start again the next day. 

Michele:  When I researched you on your site, I noticed that you push a big globe.  Tell me more about the globe. 

Erik:  The globe is a 6 foot canvas recreational ball.  I used it at camp when I was in my 20’s.  Entertained kids with it.  Diabetes is a world-wide problem.  thus the globe – worldwide.  Also represents movement.  Love yourself.  Go for a walk.  Push the globe.  Help myself and others.  Almost everyone has diabetes in their family.  Keep the juices going.  Walk.

Michele:  I am sure the globe gets attention.  Do you talk about diabetes once you get the attention of people?

Erik:  Yes, the globe gets attention, and I hand out information from the American Diabetes Association.  I feel like I am making a difference in the world.

Michele:  And you raise money for diabetes?

Erik:  All the money goes to the American Diabetes Association.  I am a small foundation. 

Michele:  How do you live?

Erik:  Save up a little bit of money, pay bills, sleep in van.  Just keep on going.  Keep the ball rolling.  Don’t want it stop rolling.  If it stops rolling, interests wanes.  Keep the world moving. 

Michele:  Where will you walk next – after today?

Erik:  I don’t know.  I may wake up in the morning and decide to head to Maine.  I talk to the locals.  They are the best GPS.  And I use the backroads. 

Michele:  So no set plan?

Erik:  No.  Just walk. 

Michele:  You are so dedicated.  Passionate.  Such a good message and cause. 

Michele:  Where do you want the money you raise to go?

Erik:  Someone will come up with a cure.  I don’t care where the money goes.  There will be a cure.  A cure and maintenance for current diabetics. 

Michele:  Last thoughts?

Erik:  I don’t know much about diabetes.  But this is my way to help.  I couldn’t let the world stop turning.  Had it all.  Lost it all.  But the smile on people’s faces is the best thing.  And spreading the word about diabetes.

Michele:  What you are doing is amazing.  Thank you so much Erik.   Have a great walk!