Rotarians from Del Norte’s two clubs cheered on 13 of their colleagues who took off from Beachfront Park on Monday for a six-day ride to combat polio.

Representing clubs throughout the Northern California district, the cyclists will pedal from the top of their district to the bottom, in Petaluma, to raise $84,000 to eradicate the disease once and for all, said Bob Rogers, district governor for Rotary District 5130. He said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will provide a 2-for-1 match, paying for polio inoculations for 400,000 children worldwide.

“When Rotary, including the two (clubs) up here, when we started this in 1985, 350,000 children a year were contracting polio,” said Rogers, who had the disease at age 5 before the vaccine was available. He noted that polio was eradicated in the U.S. in 1979.

“We made a commitment to get rid of it. This year, so far, there’s only eight cases total in the world, and so we’re on a quest to finish it off,” he said.

Rotary clubs worldwide have pledged to eradicate polio. According to District 5130’s website, The Gates Foundation offered to match any funds raised to combat polio, providing up to $35 million per year. At the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta in July, Bill Gates Jr. increased the match to $50 million and extended it for three years.

Rogers said he modeled Pedal 4 Polio on the March of Dimes with 10 cents multiplied by 350 miles equalling $35.

“If each and every Rotarian did that it would equal $84,000,” he said.

Rogers said even though he had the virus at age 5, he “dodged a bullet.”

“I have one leg shorter than the other by three-quarters of an inch,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I sort of forgot about it. Then when I joined Rotary and I found out that they had been working on this and were in the final throes of getting rid of this virus, now it’s my passion. It’s my purpose.”

For more information about Pedal 4 Polio, visit www.rotary5130.org.

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