A rallying cry to end polio

Rotary International knows no borders with 1.2 million members of 35,000 clubs in 200 countries. And the dreaded disease polio similarly crosses all borders. Polio has killed or paralyzed millions of people.

The Salk vaccine of the 1950s and the oral vaccines administered in the Sixties followed by an ongoing worldwide vaccination program has failed to completely wipe the disease out. From 350,000 cases in 1984, there were only 28 cases remaining in Pakistan and Afghanistan last year. The only way to stop the spread is continuing the vaccination of children the world over. Without vaccination, the dreaded virus is only a plane ride away, even to those of us in the western world.

Retired Naval Surgeon Lee Harman sees the day when the threat of polio will end forever. But he knows the ongoing vaccination program that could lead to that is extremely costly. Dr. Harman lives on Camano Island north of Everett, Washington and is past president of the Arlington, Washington Rotary Club. It is in the same Rotary District 5050 which includes Southern British Columbia clubs and there are close ties.

When Dr. Harman bought a rare 1931 Ford Model A Victoria to enter the 2019 Peking-to-Paris Rally and dedicated the effort to raising money to end polio, his fellow Rotarians on both sides of the border got behind him. The PolioPlus campaign is Rotary International’s biggest fundraising effort ever with $1.6 billion raised over the past 34 years and another $650 million planned. The Gates Foundation contributes two dollars for each dollar donated to the campaign and Canadian contributions are doubled by the Canadian government.

Dr. Harman could have picked an easier route to raising US$1 million for the cause he so very much believes in. The Peking-to Paris Rally is the world’s longest and toughest endurance rally. Open to vehicles 1976 and older, Lee Harman chose an 88-year-old car that is basically original except for some added horsepower packed into its four-cylinder engine along with structural and safety upgrades. Major improvements include an endurance engine and hydraulic bakes along with a full synchromesh transmission and Mitchell overdrive system to improve reliability, safety and drivability of the old car.

“It’s on my bucket list,” the retired ophthalmologist says for self-funding the very expensive Peking-to-Paris entry fee, car and shipping costs for sending his car to Beijing.

He picked a rare car as only 4,000 of the stylish two door Victoria models were produced out of the 80,000 Ford Model A cars built in 1931, the last year the Model A was built.

The Peking-to-Paris Rally starts June 2 at the Great Wall of China outside Beijing. Thirty-six days covering 15,000 kilometres of some of the world’s most challenging terrain which includes crossing the Gobi Desert through Mongolia and then across Russia on a drive half way around the world. It follows in the tracks of the original Peking-to-Paris Race run in the summer of 1907.

The rally proves that even the most difficult things can be accomplished. And that brings Rotarians together in the fight to end polio. Dr. Harman’s own involvement in the PolioPlus program has taken him to India to work with international organizations inoculating children living in remote areas. He and his co-conspirator, Retired Army Major Bill Ward, know the challenges they will face on the Peking-to-Paris rally will be worthwhile to bring attention to the importance of eradicating polio while meeting their goal of raising $1 million for the cause.

Last summer, for a practice run, the pair drove Miss Vicky from Camano Island to the 25,000-delegate 2018 Rotary International Convention in Toronto and back again. For the ultimate test, they drove the Model A up to Pike Peak’s 14,114-foot summit. ‘Miss Vicky’ performed admirably on the 6,220-mile trip and only failed to proceed when someone let the gas tank run dry.

Dr. Harman is no stranger to adventure and challenges. He and his wife have driven their 1957 Morgan sports car and 1965 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud on tours and rallies all over North America. He also piloted his 1947 Cessna 140 on a race between London and Brisbane, Australia. He also drove a vintage motorcycle from Kiev to Istanbul and then on to Italy.

“We like cars, motorbikes, planes and adventure,” he says.“We are so close to ending polio forever. We need everyone to be inoculated for just two weeks and the virus will die out as it can’t live past two weeks without a human host. All we need is one more big push.”

His 1931 Ford will be put in a container and shipped to Beijing March 15th. Lee Harman and Bill Ward fly to Beijing May 27 for the June 2 start of the Peking-to-Paris endurance race.

Their backers include fellow Rotarians from District 5050 including Jim Purcell, president of the Semiahmoo White Rock Club, fellow member Larry Whitehead who also owns a Ford Model A, and Bellingham, Washington realtor Allen Stockbridge of Pacific Northwest Passport Rotary Club who is the District PolioPlus chairman – truly an international initiative to rid the world of one of the most debilitating diseases.

For more information visit finishpolio.com/the-trek

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