Miles to End Polio 2015 Experience

by Bernard Vonn I. Sia

Physically participating in the Ride to End Polio was icing on the cake for someone like me who loves the sport. The real objective of this assembly of bikers was for Rotarians to solicit pledges from friends for funds and support for the eventual eradication of polio worldwide, a global concerted effort backed by known personalities such as Philippine’s very own people’s champ Manny Pacquiao and Bill Gates who even offered to match whatever amount that would be raised by 2:1, doubling the solicited contributions.

The End Polio program cast a special impact on us Filipinos because in its 5-year pilot phase that started in 1979, the first beneficiaries of the Rotary’s efforts to eradicate this dreaded malady were 6 million children from the Philippines. Due to this huge success, Rotary launched the PolioPlus Program in 1985, the first and largest internationally coordinated private sector support to a public health initiative. By year 2000, the Philippines was already certified as polio free. To date, there are only two countries in the world with less than 55 cases of the virus.

An exchange of email with the Rotarians in charge of Ride to End Polio, Messrs. Gary Hirsch and Darrell Stewart of the Rotary Club of Tucson, started a few days after my registration for the event. Darrell met with me at the airport the day before the race and immediately made our way to pick up the rented bikes at TriSports. We then headed to the Tucson Convention Center for registration and the race kit. A Rotary Pre-Ride Dinner for all Rotarians joining the race culminated the evening. The warm welcome from all the other Rotarian riders was so invigorating. Likewise, RC Tucson’s hospitality was amazing. They arranged for the bike rentals, provided transportation for welcome and send off at the airport and allowed us to enjoy full board meals with a home cooked breakfast by Darrell.

On the day of the race, November 21, 2015, Darrell drove me to the start line at six o’clock on a freezing early Tucson morning, a good one hour wait before the firing of the gun that would signify commencement of the tourney. Freezing temperature (45 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s already freezing for me) aggravated by the chilling wind hindered my pace that I almost gave up in the first hour of the ride. Stuffing my jersey with 3 large trash bags helped a bit but was not enough.

Fortunately, my resolve to finish the lap got myself going the rest of the way. I hatched a strategy to overcome the cold and finally succeeded. The was to stop every 25 miles (40 kilometers), enjoy the sights and take some pictures. I set my goal to cover the entire race course in 8 hours. The race’s terrain, although mostly flat, was also quite challenging as there were portions where we had to dismount, walk with our bike on a sandy area, climb a short hill and mount again. There were some pretty intense headwinds and some short climbs as well and it got pretty warm as it neared lunchtime.

In the course of the ride, I met myriad riders in various cycling gears such as unicycles, tandem bikes, as well as mountain bikes. Among us were even a number of physically challenged cyclist on their special bikes. These guys were so inspiring in their feat, covering 104 miles pedaling with theirs arms.

I witnessed humanity in action as some riders stopped to help other racers in need and aid station volunteers were extra helpful during our stops. At three quarters of the course was the Rotary International Aid Station with food and hydration drinks in a truck with a huge Rotary End Polio Ride banner.

As I neared the finish line, I was overwhelmed by the cheers of the spectators. Finally, after 6 hours and 57 minutes, it was over. I went straight to the Rotary tent where Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Tucson and some district officers were present ready to assist the Rotarian riders in their post-ride recovery.

I took home a finisher’s medal, a treasure chest of new friends and Rotary family. On top of these, and most important, a renewed hope on humanity elicited by the experience which proved that indifference will not make a difference. Charity should be part and parcel of one’s life, apart from family, work and spirituality, to make it balanced. I hope to be able to continue this commitment and set a good example to my children through Rotary.

The hectic two-day stay in Tucson was an eye opener for me as a Rotarian, realizing how big-hearted Rotarians are in their effort towards a better world. Pledges generated by the End Polio Ride totaled US $75.000 or PhP 3.5 Million (with the 2:1 match of Bill Gates).

Thank you, Rotary International. District 3860 and our club, the Rotary Club of Cebu deeply appreciate your generosity in making a positive change in the world by ending polio.

Source: PRM Magazine, January 2016 Issue

Rotary Club of Cebu Members meet every Thursdays of the week from 12NN to 2PM at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel.

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