"World Guy" Erik Bendl Walking for Health
Erik Bendl, with his dog, Nice, pushes his “World Guy” globe down a road near Hooper, Neb., to raise diabetes awareness.
He may be from Louisville, Ky., but Erik Bendl really is a citizen of the world. He’s traveling most of the year, stopping to rest in a new town every night. And oh, yes: He’s pushing an enormous globe along the way to raise awareness of diabetes. Bendl, 50, a carpenter by trade, says he first got moving as a way to promote good health for all.
Bendl is “The World Guy,” a one-man mobile nonprofit organization raising money for the American Diabetes Association and spreading his message across the country. The “world” started as a ball 6 feet in diameter for his son, Ethan, to play with in a local park. It’s now a passion, Bendl says, stoked by his family’s health history and his own mission to be fit.
When Bendl and his son would play in the park, people often asked him about the globe. They wanted to know if he had a message to go with it. “Diabetes pretty much rolled off my tongue instantly,” he says. “Even though my mom had been gone eight to 10 years, I still remembered.”
His mother, Gerta Bendl, died in 1987 of congestive heart failure linked to diabetes. She was 54 years old. “She didn’t get to see her grandchildren,” Bendl laments. However, he says, he has other family members living healthy lives with diabetes, including an uncle who is in his 80s.
When Bendl saw the connection between his uncle’s active lifestyle and his successful diabetes management, his first walk as World Guy started to fall into place. In 1998, he pushed the globe nearly 80 miles from Louisville to Lexington as a part of local Diabetes Awareness Week events. Every year, he takes the world out a bit farther, walking an average of 10 miles a day with his dog, Nice, and anyone who happens to meet him on the road. He accepts rides back to his van, where he sleeps each night, and he takes donations to carry on his travels and to give to the ADA.
Many people are curious about what the large globe symbolizes, and when Bendl talks to them about diabetes, they have questions. His answers are simple: He wants everyone to become a little more active. A few miles of walking can benefit everyone, Bendl says.
“[I’m] a guy walking across the country with the world, trying to spread the message of ‘Save yourself by walking,’” he says. “It’s been a real good experience for me to [show] what I’m talking about: a daily activity. I can see or at least feel the results.”
Over the past few years, Bendl has rolled out his message in more than 30 states and the District of Columbia. He’s got designs on walking in all 50 states. And so far, he’s raised more than $5,000 for the ADA through his treks and his work as the captain of the World Guy Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes® team in Louisville. But more important than the money he raises, says Helen Overfield, director of the ADA’s Louisville office, is the message he gets across. “He is passionate about discussing diabetes with people as he travels,” she says. “He is a free spirit, and rather unconventional, that for many may raise an eyebrow—but has a heart of gold.”
To learn more about World Guy and to follow his adventures, visit www.worldguy.org.