Winnipeg might have Terry Fox and Port Alberni might have Rick Hansen, but Whitehorse has Ramesh Ferris.
Ferris, an adopted son of Whitehorse, recently finished a long journey easily comparable to Fox’s Marathon of Hope or Hansen’s Man in Motion tour.
“Rick Hansen and Terry Fox are my heroes,” said Ferris. “They are very inspiring people who had dreams of helping the world with their own causes.”
In April, Ferris set out on the Cycle to Walk campaign, a 173-day journey from Victoria, BC to Cape Spear, Nfld. The campaign raised roughly $300,000 towards his goal of eradicating polio, a disease that paralyzed Ferris’ legs as a very young child.
“If we choose not to continue the efforts to eradicate polio, 10 million children will be paralyzed in the next 40 years, and I don’t want to see that happen,” said Ferris, who rode a three-wheeled hand-bike powered by his robust upper body. “My dream is a polio-free world and I’m not going to stop until we’re polio-free.”
In 2002, Ferris visited his native country of India, a nation that has only recently made significant progress against the disease with immunization campaigns. His time there “very much” inspired him to begin the Cycle to Walk campaign.
“I witnessed the realities of how people with polio are living outside of Canada,” said Ferris. “What I saw was horrific. I saw polio survivors on the ground, crawling.”
Cycle to Walk is not only about eradication, however; 20 per cent of the funds raised will go to rehabilitation of survivors in undeveloped countries and five per cent will be used to educate people about the deadly disease.
“I know that polio survivors around the world are receiving braces and crutches so they don’t have to crawl on the ground,” said Ferris. “Those are my dreams.”
According to Ferris, education of polio must extend beyond poor nations, reaching even wealthy countries such as Canada.
“Eleven per cent of this country’s population hasn’t received a polio vaccination,” explained Ferris. “That puts us at a high risk of future polio outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization.”
Ironically, Ferris describes the feelings he had as he finished his journey as being akin to starting a race instead of finishing one.
“I’m just so excited to move on to the next chapter of my life and the next journey, and that’s sharing the message further and educating more people on an international level,” said Ferris.
Continuing his altruistic work, Ferris is now turning to his next project, creation of the Ramesh Ferris Polio Foundation.
“I see this as being an international foundation, which will continue to raise funds and awareness for polio eradication, education and rehabilitation,” said Ferris.
Of course, a journey of such magnitude has filled Ferris with memories that will last a lifetime, but one in particular stands out.
“There was a young boy who was cycling up one of my last hills in Newfoundland, and he said to me, ‘So you’re completing Terry Fox’s dream,’” said Ferris. “I didn’t really know what to say. He said, ‘You can do it, keep going. I’ll be there with you.’
“That just made me feel really good.”
During his travels, Ferris met with a multitude of politicians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But perhaps, the most inspirational encounter Ferris had took place before the journey began — meeting Rick Hansen at the start of last year.
“Your vision and commitment to raising funds and awareness for the global eradication of polio as well as for education and the rehabilitation of individuals living with polio is truly to be commended,” Rick Hansen wrote in a letter to Ferris.
“I’m excited to come back to Whitehorse and celebrate the success of the Cycle to Walk campaign,” said Ferris, who will be speaking Thursday morning and then cycle with local students starting from the Transportation Museum in Whitehorse at 11:15 am.
“Cycle to Walk was my dream, a community’s dream, a territory’s dream and now it’s a country’s dream.”