From crawling to cycling cross continent

Ramesh Ferris walks with a limp and a cane. But he cycles like the wind. The polio survivor can reach speeds of 74 kilometres per hour downhill on…

Ramesh Ferris walks with a limp and a cane.

But he cycles like the wind.

The polio survivor can reach speeds of 74 kilometres per hour downhill on his hand cycle.

And next year, Ferris will use that momentum to take him across the continent to raise money and awareness for the disease.

On April 12, 2008, Ferris will begin the journey of a lifetime.

It will begin at 41 Firth Road in Whitehorse, where he first learned to walk, and end in Cape Spear, Newfoundland.

He’s making the trip for the Cycle to Walk Society to raise money to fight polio.

The goal is ambitious.

The campaign could raise $10 million, said Allon Reddoch, president of the Cycle to Walk Society.

“I know that is a huge commitment, but this is a huge campaign,” said Reddoch.

Ferris wants corporate support. He’d also like Rotary Clubs across the continent to pony up.

But it doesn’t end there.

“This isn’t just my project, this isn’t just a Rotary project — this needs to be a Yukon project, this needs to be our country’s project,” said Ferris.

“We need so much from this community and the people of this country to make it a successful campaign.”

Ferris wants volunteers and sponsorship from the community, but he also wants parents to ensure their children are immunized, he told a crowd gathered by the Rotary Centennial Bridge on a blustery afternoon last week.

As friends and supporters watched, Ferris pre-launched the campaign with a cycle to Juneau to speak at a Rotary function.

He’s been swimming and road biking for months to train for the journey.

And he’ll step up the training as the trans-continent trip nears.

Ferris, who was born in India, contracted polio when he was six-months-old.

“I was a crawler there for my first two and a half years.”

Then he was adopted by Canadian parents and brought to Whitehorse.

At three and a half, Ferris received his first leg brace.

“This brace allowed me to stand before you today,” Ferris told the crowd while holding the tiny prop, which looked like a doll’s leg.

He stood beside his 27-speed, three-wheeled bike.

Ferris returned to India five years ago, and that ignited his passion to be part of the Cycle to Walk campaign, which focuses on education, rehabilitation and eradication of polio throughout the world.

“I saw people with disabilities not living to their full potential — people who have had polio who continue to crawl.

“They use tire pieces on their knees to get around,” he said.

Those people don’t have any support.

And Ferris wants them to have the same opportunities that he had while growing up.

“In our world we have a culture of crawlers that want to give back to their communities, but they don’t have access and they haven’t been given the support to make it happen,” said Ferris.

Polio is a contagious, devastating disease passed through contact with contaminated feces.

There are two basic types of polio — a minor type that does not affect the central nervous system and a major type, which may be paralytic or non-paralytic.

It was virtually eliminated from North America in the mid-1900s, but there are still an estimate 10 to 20 million people around the world suffering the effects of the disease.

“Polio still hasn’t been eradicated, so we haven’t reached our goal yet,” said Reddoch.

“We’re 99 per cent of the way there.”

And that’s not good enough, said Reddoch.

Polio is endemic in four countries — Afghanistan, Nigeria, India and Pakistan.

“Until we can say that polio has been eradicated, we are still one plane trip away from a global epidemic,” said Reddoch.

Eighteen-per-cent of children in the Yukon are not immunized.

To learn more or to donate to the cause go to www.cycletowalk.com.