Polio survivor cycles across Canada to fight polio
Ferris cycles along a prairie field in Saskatchewan, Canada. Photos courtesy of Ramesh Ferris Cycle to Walk Society
"I am reminded of the effects of polio every day of my life," says Ramesh Ferris, who is cycling 7,200 kilometers (4,474 miles) across Canada to ensure that children worldwide are able to walk.
The 28-year-old polio survivor is riding a 27-speed handcycle on a journey that began in Victoria, British Columbia, on 12 April. He plans to arrive in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, in mid-October.
"Cycle to Walk is my way to prevent polio and give other polio survivors a chance to reach their full potential," said Ferris. He is promoting polio eradication at schools, Rotary, and other service clubs, health care providers, and government offices.
Among other highlights, Ferris has cycled through Fraser Canyon, the Canadian Rockies, and Jasper National Park, on the Terry Fox Courage Highway, and across the town of Sudbury's Bridge of Nations. He has stopped to address District 5550's annual conference, joined Sault Sainte Marie's Rotaryfest parade, and been honored by the Toronto Blue Jays on Cycle to Walk night, in front of more than 23,000 baseball fans.
On 12 August, Ferris met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa. "Our visit today helps demonstrate that Canada will continue to be a global leader in the fight against history's greatest cause of disability," Ferris said.
A day earlier, Ferris was welcomed to the nation's capital by Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion. "It's a wonderful initiative," Dion said of the global battle to end polio. "It requires a lot of courage and determination. Everything we are able to do, we will do."
For his part in that battle, Ferris has had to draw deeply on his own determination many times. Born in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, in 1979, he was stricken by polio at the age of six months. He was adopted by Canadian parents at age two and, following several surgeries and physical rehabilitation, learned to walk with crutches by age four. But polio also afflicted his lungs, and he contracted pneumonia nine times before his 11th birthday.
A visit to India in 2002 and seeing others suffering from polio inspired Ferris to found the Cycle to Walk Society, which raises money to fight polio and boosts public awareness of the disease. His goal in cycling across Canada is to raise C$1 million (US$955,082); as of 15 August, contributions had reached C$279,148 (US$266,609). Of the total, 75 percent will go to PolioPlus to immunize children in polio-endemic and at-risk countries, 20 percent to aid rehabilitation, and 5 percent to help educate Canadians about the disease and advocate their continued immunization.
"We are on the brink of making history," he said about the global effort to eradicate polio. "Let's get excited about making polio history, so that we can continue the work of ridding the world of other diseases."
To follow Ferris's journey, read his blog at www.cycletowalk.com.