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433 miles in their shoes: Bender walks across the state in the name of sick kids

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SEATTLE - Imagine waking up, heading into work thinking it's just another day, then being surprisingly let go.

You're confused, maybe embarrassed and probably overwhelmed with what to do next. Someone losing their job isn't newsworthy but why this story is worth your time, especially if you're a parent, is that despite not having a job, one local man is going to great lengths, literally, to help Washington families in need.

For 18 years, listeners across the Northwest started their day with Bender Cunningham. Last October, he unexpectedly became a free agent when he was let go.

"For years I’ve been trying to do this, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do a walk across the entire state for the amount of time it was going to take while being tethered to a microphone," says Bender. "I was told and advised when this whole thing happened that when I suddenly had all the free time in my hands, enjoy it, because it’ll go by in a blink of an eye, and I’ve done exactly that."

His radio career spanned over two decades, but for the first time, Bender was forced to find a new purpose.

"My new normal is getting to spend a whole lot of time with my new wife, with my daughter and son," he explains.

It's that precious time with loved ones that inspired Bender to reflect on the families he met throughout his career, and what it must be like to walk a mile in their shoes. Or, to be more precise, 400 miles.

While this is the first time Bender has pledged to walk across the state, this is far from his first time raising money.

During his career, Bender helped raise more than $16 million for the Uncompensated Care Fund at Seattle Children's Hospital, which assists families struggling with lifesaving medical expenses.

"In 2019, no mom or dad should have to worry about the financial constraints of just trying to get their son or daughter healthy and home," says Bender.

Bender's Walk for the Kids: Part 2

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His journey started at the Washington-Idaho state line. If he can keep up with the grueling pace of 20 miles per day, he'll finish in three weeks.

"The only thing mom and dad should have to worry about is getting their son or daughter home. Period. That's it! And if us donating a couple bucks here and a couple bucks there and it turns into a whole lot of money for the Uncompensated Care Fund, then that’s what we’re going to do," Bender explains.

But with so many ways to raise money, why this?

"I would rather walk 400 miles knowing full well that any mom or dad at Seattle Children’s with a chair pulled up next to the bed of their kid, who they just want to get home, would trade with me in a heartbeat. And me walking 400 miles is nothing compared to walking one mile, A MILE, in their shoes."

Bender's Walk for the Kids: The Aftermath

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Three weeks and 433 miles later, Bender arrived at the Space Needle, shattering his original $100,000 goal. That day, the Uncompensated Care Fund at Seattle Children's Hospital was gifted $160,632.83. Although his walk is over, the need to help never ends. Donations in honor of Bender's Walk for the Kids can continue to be made at GiveToTheKids.com.

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