Canadian Rotarian swims to end polio
Top: Thie Convery promotes her Swim to End Polio during the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Bottom: Convery takes a practice swim in Lake Ontario in June. Photos courtesy of Swim to End Polio
A 43-year-old Canadian Rotarian's attempt to swim across Lake Ontario in August has raised almost US$150,000 for polio eradication.
Thie Convery, a member of the Rotary Club of Dundas, Ontario, made it halfway across the lake on 7 August before weather conditions forced her to stop. Through the Swim to End Polio, her club raised $44,000 for Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge. The fundraiser also inspired clubs across Canada to give to the challenge.
According to William R. Patchett, chair of the District 7070 Rotary Foundation Committee, Canadian clubs have contributed nearly $150,000, as of the beginning of September.
Convery's effort received extensive print and broadcast coverage, both before and after the event.
“We wanted to raise awareness, and we certainly did that,” she said.
Convery, a financial adviser, said she decided to take on the endeavor after club members gathered last year to discuss raising money for the challenge.
She was also motivated by her friendship with two polio survivors. Sadique Alli, a former Dundas club member, contracted the disease as a child in India and now uses a leg brace to walk. Convery also met Ramesh Ferris, of the Rotary Club of Whitehorse, Yukon, several times, and earned his support. Ferris hand-cycled across Canada in 2008 to raise more than C$300,000 for polio eradication.
Before her training, she had never swum more than a few laps in a local pool.
"I'm not a distance swimmer. But when the idea came up a year ago, I decided to begin training," explained Convery, who achieved a national ranking in Canada as a drug-free bodybuilder six years ago. "I'm used to being physical. But this was really something different."
After months of practicing the efficient, gliding strokes necessary for long-distance swimming, Convery completed a 12-mile swim across Lake Erie in June, which served as a qualifier. Solo Swims of Ontario, a volunteer group that governs solo attempts to swim long distances, assesses swimmers and their crew for preparedness.
On 7 August, Convery dropped into Lake Ontario at Niagara-on-the-Lake at around 9:40 a.m., accompanied by a small fleet of boats loaded with support crew, physicians, and lifeguards. About 15 miles into the swim, and well short of her goal to reach Toronto, Convery's crew decided to pull her out of the water.
“She made a fantastic effort,” said Karen Cumming, a friend who handled publicity. “If it had not been for the weather, she would have made it across.”
Convery said that she has not ruled out another attempt, and that she was touched by the dedication of her crew and the support of Rotarians. “To look around and see the faces of the people who committed their time, energy, and money -- that was the most powerful experience.
“We did make a difference,” she added. “We didn’t get across the lake, but we definitely made a difference. Ask the children who will be receiving polio vaccine if it was worth it.”
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