Getting active to fight polio
From left: Melissa Hainz, Sara Normandin, and Ole Nygaard take part in the Pedal Away Polio event, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Greater Albany, Oregon, USA. Photo courtesy of Len Hainz
R otarians have been cycling, swimming, and dancing to raise money for polio eradication.
On 21 August, the Rotary Club of Greater Albany, Oregon, USA, held its second annual Pedal Away Polio ride, raising close to $7,000 for PolioPlus. About 30 riders took part in the event, which offered 52-, 27-, 11- and 7-mile courses, and a 1-mile loop for children.
Len Hainz, a club member and cancer survivor, came up with the idea after participating in a similar event two years ago in Coos Bay. Hainz was an avid runner before prostate cancer forced him to stop. He turned to cycling upon a suggestion from his son, a die-hard cyclist, and it ended up playing a large role in his recovery.
"I fell in love with it," Hainz says. "My whole family cycles. After taking part in the event in Coos Bay, it got me thinking, we ought to do this too."
Publicity from the first Pedal Away Polio event attracted the attention of a local polio survivor, Bonnie Helpenstell. This year, Helpenstell and her husband agreed to match some of the funds the club raised through the ride.
"I am profoundly appreciative that Rotary has not forgotten the impact of this disease on the world population just because we don't have it in the United States anymore," says Helpenstell, who was diagnosed with postpolio syndrome three years ago. "To see Rotarians in my community make an effort on behalf of people around the world is inspiring."
Other Rotarians have used their athleticism to raise money for the cause.
Jatin Mehta, a 70-year-old member of the Rotary Club of Bridgeport, Connecticut swam a mile and a half across Lake George in New York on 9 August, raising more than $24,000 for Rotary's US$200 Million Challenge .
Mehta, a native of India who moved to the United States in the 1960s, chose Lake George in upstate New York because he had swum across it years ago, when he took his children there for an annual vacation.
"My first motivation was to do something to raise money for polio," Mehta says. "I also figured the idea of a 70-year-old swimming across a lake would grab attention and help publicize the good work Rotary does."
He was right. In addition to generating donations from Rotary clubs in Connecticut and India, Mehta's swim brought out members of the community and received ample media coverage.
"I was able to reach many non-Rotarians who were interested in finding out about polio and what we are doing to end it," Mehta says. "Rotary's brand name is good. If we approach people right, we can really get the word out there about what Rotary does."
Other recent fundraisers have included:
- Thie Convery, a member of the Rotary Club of Dundas, Ontario, Canada, raised US$44,000 for Rotary's challenge in August in a bid to swim across Lake Ontario, from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto. Read more .
- Stephen Wallace, governor-elect of District 5330 (California, USA), and members of his family cycled 450 miles across Iowa in seven days at the end of July, collecting pledges for PolioPlus. Wallace's daughter Cris hiked the Pacific Crest Trail , which stretches from Mexico to Canada, in 2008, raising more than $70,000 for PolioPlus. Inspired by their daughter's accomplishment, Wallace and his wife trained for three months to take part in the Des Moines Register's annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. "This has been one of the most physically demanding adventures I have ever had," Wallace says, "but also very rewarding. The number of people who rode alongside us during the ride, asking questions about polio and Rotary, made every minute worth it."
- The Rotary Club of Sherman Oaks Sunset, California, held a dance marathon on 7 August, raising several thousand dollars for PolioPlus. Community members danced for several hours and received free dance instruction. (See their video on YouTube ) Mel Powell, a past president of the club, says more than two-thirds of the donations came from non-Rotarians. "A young lady who works as a custodian in the condo building where I live saw our flier and was so moved, she collected $44 from her neighbors -- all people with very little money -- in a sandwich bag," Powell says. "That little bag she handed me the Monday after the event was more meaningful than checks we received for much greater amounts."
Learn more about Rotary's effort to eradicate polio: