World guy's walk for diabetes gets a boost from UF


Erik Bendl and Nice, a 6 1/2-year-old black mouth cur, have walked more than 6,000 miles to raise awareness of diabetes. As a result of all of that walking, Nice recently was treated at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments. (Photo by UF&Shands photographer Maria Farias)

Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.

Erik Bendl arrived in Spring Hill in mid-February, having walked more than 6,000 miles.

He came with a cause: diabetes. And a companion: Nice, a 6-year-old "black mouth cur," a hunting dog common in the South.

Spring Hill, located 30 miles north of Tampa, marked a turning point in the duo's trek across the country. They stopped walking for the first time. Nice was limping.

"He went from a powerful dog that could break bones to an old man that you can hold back with one finger," Bendl said.

An X-ray revealed what looked like a bone spur in Nice's left knee, but it didn't get better, and when both knees went out, Erik came to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. The diagnosis -- ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments -- is not uncommon in medium and big-sized dogs, said Dr. Caleb Hudson, a surgeon at the vet school.

It just came a little prematurely, but understandably so in a dog that had walked so much, Hudson added.

Surgery is the only fix for the condition, and last week, Nice successfully underwent a 2-hour procedure to remove remnants of his torn cruciate and then render it unnecessary by cutting into the tibia and changing its orientation, Hudson explained.

Walking for diabetes awareness

To take his mind off the dog's procedure, Bendl walked through Gainesville on Tuesday, rolling the enormous canvas globe that's part of his travel gear. A walking stick attached to the 6-foot-by-6-foot globe helps Bendl control it.

Bendl inherited the ball from a summer camp he worked at in his native Louisville 15 years ago. Rolling the ball around the park with his son, then 7 years old, "everyone asked me where I was going," Bendl said. "It was peer pressure."

That's when Bendl got the walking bug, but it wasn't until Bendl's mother, Gerta Bendl, a state representative from Kentucky, died from complications of diabetes at age 54 that he attached a cause to his walks.

"What would you walk across the world for?" Bendl remembers asking himself. His mother had lost her toes and had gallbladder surgery because of diabetes.

"She had a steep decline because (diabetes) awareness wasn't as good," Bendl said.

Dubbing himself and his mission "world guy," Bendl has trekked from Kentucky to Kansas; Washington state to California; he's walked the Boston Marathon route and drove to Colorado to then walk up to Pikes Peak.

Donations he receives along the way, he said, go to the American Diabetes Association.

Bendl's motto is simple: "Love yourself -- go for a walk." He encourages people to take the first step -- from walking around the block once, twice and so on.

Hundreds of people have acted on his message, he said.

One obese woman had neuropathy -- or lack of feeling -- in her feet. She started walking and lost a lot of weight, Bendl said. "She could move her feet again. She was as happy as a schoolgirl."

Other people have significantly reduced high blood sugar levels -- the telltale sign of type 2 diabetes -- from the 300 and 400 hundreds to the 90s and 100s, Bendl said.

Diabetes is growing in the U.S. and Florida: 8.9 percent of people in Florida have diabetes, and 65 percent are overweight or obese, according to the ADA.

Walking in Florida

Bendl said he intends to continue his journey in Florida in a few months, once Nice has recovered.

"I don't know if he'll get another 7,000 miles after his surgery, but I am all for having him walk for Erik," Hudson said.

Meanwhile, Nice is resting in the place where he and Erik stopped in Spring Hill. Employees at the Central Energy office there had spotted Erik and Nice taking cover from the wind and rain near their office one day in February.

They invited Erik in for a cup of coffee and hours later had taken in Nice as "a new stepchild," Bendl said.

Suzanne Kidder, who does marketing for Central Energy, said the business has converted part of the office into a recovery room for Nice, replete with "soft comforters and pillows," Kidder said.

"We've created a puppy playpen that'll be his so he can see everybody."

And Nice is living up to his name -- which he got from the children of his first owners, who kept telling the dog to 'be nice.'

"He's a real mush," Kidder said. "He has a temperament that is just loving. You can almost see an old soul there.

"He's taken over protecting anyone who comes in the office."

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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