NICEVILLE — On Sunday a 50-year-old man from Kentucky and his dog had the world on a string and were rolling it down State Road 85.
Erik Bendl and Nice the Dog pushed their world – an inflatable ball about six feet in diameter - down the shoulder of the highway as they have done for over 6,000 miles across 39 states since 2007 in order to raise awareness about diabetes.
Bendl’s mother and brother-in-law both died in their 50s after suffering from the disease. His uncle, now in his 80s, was also diagnosed with the disease, but is managing it and has lived to meet his grandchildren, unlike Bendl’s own mother.
“That’s a good reason for anybody to be inspired,” he said.
Bendl started this trek in Florida - his ninth trip with the world - on Wednesday in Pensacola. He thought he might walk about 13 miles south down SR 85 on Sunday and then hitch a ride back to his van, which was parked at a gas station.
He, Nice the Dog and the ball average about one mile in 30 to 40 minutes, but it’s not about speed, he said.
“After 6,000 of those, who cares?” he said.
His time depends greatly on how often he’s stopped to talk.
“One day I’ll talk to five people all day and have meaningful, great, memorable meetings with people,” he said. “Other days dozens and dozens stop. It’ll take five hours to go two miles.”
The world is painted blue and green and emblazoned with Bendl’s website – worldguy.org. He’s recently started a foundation to raise money for diabetes research and people can read about his travels at the website.
The prop is an eye-catcher.
Doug Wilson, 32 of Crestview, had seen Bendl and the world going down U.S. Highway 90 days before and visited his website. He spotted him again on his way to work Sunday and on the way home he pulled over to stop and talk.
“I think this is great,” Wilson said.
He said his mother had been diagnosed with diabetes but was able to manage her condition with diet and exercise, and he knew a child who was recently diagnosed with the disease.
Bendl’s cheeks were rosy in the brisk wind Sunday as he stood next to the world with his walking stick to chat with Wilson. His face is lightly lined from weathering the elements over the years.
He described one particularly harrowing day in Nebraska with 40-mile-per hour winds blowing hard in his face making it difficult to push the world forward.
Ice is another obstacle. It quickly tatters the canvas wrapped around the ball.
Bendl inherited the ball from a friend who worked at a school in the late 1990s and he estimates that it’s over 30 years old.
“It had been retired from the school system long before I met it,” he said.
Bendl tries not to deflate the world during his treks unless absolutely necessary. Nice the Dog has taken to protecting it from people who might mistake it for a toy.
These days, now that Bendl has a van, his walks require he carry only the day’s essentials: dog food, patchwork and glue, a battery-powered air pump, cell phone and radio.
He said walking with the world was a natural fit for him. His mother was a state representative and public servant and both his parents were in the theater.
“I sort of have it in my bones,” he said.
Visit Bendl’s website to donate and receive updates from his travels at www.worldguy.org.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.