Canadian polio survivor enjoys a royal moment
Polio survivor Ramesh Ferris (left) of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse, Yukon, meets with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the queen’s 2010 Royal Tour of Canada. Photo courtesy of Ramesh Ferris
When polio survivor Ramesh Ferris hand-cycled across Canada in 2008 to raise money for polio eradication, one of his goals was to share with as many leaders and policymakers as possible the importance of ridding the world of the disease.
Ferris, a member of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse, Yukon, had another opportunity on 30 June, when he was granted an audience with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the queen’s 2010 Royal Tour of Canada.
The 30-year-old polio survivor had been invited to a royal garden party at Rideau Hall in Ottawa by Senator Daniel Lang of Yukon, whom Ferris has known since childhood. In his conversation with the queen and prime minister, Ferris spoke about how polio had changed his life, about his experiences cycling across Canada, and about the need to eradicate the disease.
Before the party, Ferris conferred with Lang and decided to wear cycling shorts and a T-shirt to the event instead of formal attire. “We felt it would have a bigger impact on Her Majesty if she could see the effects of polio on my body,” Ferris says. “Her Majesty looked quite shocked to see my legs, and it created an opening to share my personal experience and the importance of Rotary’s cause.”
He says he reminded the queen, who was scheduled to speak to the United Nations General Assembly the next week, that when she had last addressed the assembly, in 1957, there were thousands of cases of polio in the United States alone, primarily in children under five. “I told her we are so close to eradicating polio, and encouraged her to talk about the importance of continuing the fight.”
Ferris says the queen “was very engaged” and that Harper affirmed Canada’s commitment to helping in the eradication effort.
During the RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, earlier in June, Ferris promoted the cause by hand-cycling through the streets and leading a group of Rotarians to a special ceremony in Vieux-Montréal, where the landmark Bonsecours Market was illuminated with Rotary’s pledge to End Polio Now (En finir avec la polio).
Ferris, who contracted polio in India when he was six months old, was adopted by Canadian parents at the age of two. After numerous surgeries and extensive physical therapy, he learned to walk with crutches.
In 2002, he founded Cycle to Walk, a public awareness campaign for polio eradication, education, and rehabilitation. The effort has included hundreds of presentations to Rotary clubs, schools, and churches across Canada, generating more than 300 media interviews to advocate continued support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In 2008, he rode his 27-speed hand-cycle on a 4,474-mile journey from Victoria, British Columbia, to Cape Spear, Newfoundland.
“Rotary’s fight against polio has such a personal connection for me,” Ferris says. “To prevent children from suffering through the same pain that marred my childhood truly touches my heart.”
He says he was moved by his meeting with the queen and prime minister. “It was a powerful experience to stand with my country’s leader and our monarch.”
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