All revved up
Fighting polio is a crusade for this survivor
By Jim Downing -- Bee Staff Writer
Bob Mutchler zips away from the
state Capitol on the first leg of an 18,000-mile motorcycle trip to
boost awareness of Rotary Club's efforts to eradicate polio.
Sacramento Bee/Andy Alfaro
Mutchler began riding a motorcycle in 1986, after he was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, which signaled the further breakdown of his nervous system.
"I figured I had beat the doctors' expectations 40 years earlier, and I could do it again," he said.
Mutchler wears leg braces over his black motorcycle boots and gets around with crutches. He also has severe scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. He said that living with pain every day prepared him for the discomfort of marathon motorcycling.
"I could ride 1,000-mile days," he said.
Mutchler rides an old California Highway Patrol BMW donated by A & S BMW in Roseville. The bike has a sidecar to keep it upright at stops and a special hand-operated gear shifter attached to the fuel tank, but is otherwise unmodified.
Mutchler's wife of 13 years, Patti, 53, also rides. But for this trip, she's staying in Folsom to help coordinate her husband's 72 speaking engagements along the route.
"The logistics are just horrendous," Mutchler said.
He tries to stay within 15 minutes of his scheduled meetings with audiences and reporters. "A camera crew is not going to wait," he said.
Mutchler and Hennessey plan to finish the ride in Chicago by June 17, in time for the 100th annual Rotary convention.
Twenty years ago, Rotary International, the 1.2 million-member social service organization, joined with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization in an effort to eradicate polio.
Rotary has contributed more than $600 million to the program, which has led to the immunization of more than 2 billion children and has saved more than 5 million children from paralysis, according to WHO estimates.
Polio was eradicated in the United States in 1979, following the release of an effective vaccine in 1955. Before that, as many as 21,000 children nationwide were paralyzed each year by polio, according to a CDC report.
The incurable disease was nearly eliminated worldwide by 2000 but has since rebounded in Africa and Asia. An outbreak in Yemen in April brought to 15 the number of previously polio-free countries that have had outbreaks since 2003.
So Bob Mutchler keeps riding.
After leaving Sacramento, Mutchler and Hennessey hit Carson City, Nev., then headed south to Phoenix. On the ride through the desert, they battled cold rain and occasional snow.
But Mutchler seems to thrive on the hardship.
"These rides are really good for me," he said Friday by phone from Phoenix. "They push me to my limit."