Naperville Rotarians continue fight against polio

Our three adult children know the trials of polio from stories passed down from their grandmother, now 87, who caught a mild case of the epidemic disease in 1950.

Most Americans born since 1979 - the same year we welcomed our first child into the world and the United States became polio-free - have little knowledge of the crippling affliction eradicated here after extensive and effective vaccination programs developed by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin began in the mid-1950s.

Today, polio is on the way out of our world, thanks to concerted efforts by Rotary International and massive global health initiatives started in 1988 to put an end to the dreaded disabling disease in every developing nation.

Yet Naperville resident Naish Shah, 50, has vivid memories of his two cousins, both of whom died from polio as young adults in India 28 years ago.

"Back in India, the vaccine wasn't available for my uncle's two sons," Naish remembers. "My father had brought our family to America in 1959, so I was fortunate to be immunized."

Naish works for Rotary International in the IT department. A year ago, he joined the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown, a small club known as "4:44 Rotary," where I'm also a member.

World Polio Day is Oct. 24. Here's hoping amid other epidemic news, you'll take a few minutes to recognize the progress and the importance of eradication of polio when the world is "this close."

Miles to End Polio

A few weeks ago, Naish mentioned he'd been training with the 2014 RI Staff "Miles to End Polio" team in order to ride 104 miles in the annual El Tour de Tucson on Nov. 22.

The popular bike ride now attracts more than 9,000 participants and recently was renamed "Special Olympics El Tour de Tucson" to recognize this year's primary beneficiary.

Much like the Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon, fundraising initiatives for various nonprofits also can be set by individual teams for the ride.

Listening to Naish, our Rotary has learned about the high energies of John Hewko, an accomplished cyclist who is the general secretary of Rotary International at RI World Headquarters in Evanston.

In 2013, Hewko rode to raise $700,000 for Rotary's End Polio Now Campaign, which was "double matched" by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing his total tally to $2.1 million for Rotary's most notable global initiative.

Though much has been accomplished since 1988, polio continues to be endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where the urgent need to inoculate every child younger than 5 sometimes is misunderstood. Just as smallpox, until every single case of polio in the world is completely eradicated, outbreaks remain a threat.

When our son, Tep, heard about Rotary's participation, he, too, decided to enter the perimeter ride throughout the hills of Tucson. An avid cyclist who hits the trails nearly every day weather permits, he rode the metric century route in the Rotary Ride in memory of Carmen DiGiovani last August, hosted by the Rotary Club of Naperville/South AM.

What's more, 4:44 Rotarian and Assistant District Governor 6450 Chuck Corrigan suggested hosting a bike rally to raise awareness right here in Naperville.

Anyone, cyclist or not, can gather at Quigley's Irish Pub at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 25, to meet a few members of Rotary's Miles to End Polio team geared up for Tucson. Then folks can take a casual 10-, 15-, or 20-mile ride starting at 10:30 a.m. This training ride is not a sanctioned ride, meaning that all participants are responsible for themselves.

Our aim is to build camaraderie and for local folks to pledge $25, $50 or $100 to sponsor a 4:44 rider participating in Special Olympics El Tour de Tucson. Supporters also are welcome to contribute on-site or online with a tax-deductible donation of at least $15 to the End Polio Now campaign.

Or you can just join us for lunch.

For complete details, other links and training bike routes, visit

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