Sacramento Bee

All revved up

Fighting polio is a crusade for this survivor 

Starting April 27 at the California Capitol, Bob Mutchler, 57, left, and his riding partner, Tony Hennessy, plan to visit the capitals of 47 other states and nine Canadian provinces on their Rotary Club motorcycle odyssey.
 Sacramento Bee/Andy Alfaro

By Jim Downing -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, May 5, 2005

In Bob Mutchler's earliest memories, everyone around him is wearing face masks, fearing the contagion that gave him polio when he was just 9 months old.

Mutchler's parents kept their noses and mouths covered when they saw him for much of the next three years in iron lungs and hospital beds, his legs nearly paralyzed by the disease.

That worrisome start, however, eventually gave way to a motorcycle-mounted crusade against polio by Mutchler, now 57. The Folsom resident is in his seventh year of spreading the word about Rotary International's campaign to eradicate the disease where it lingers in Africa and Asia.

On April 27, Mutchler and fellow Rotarian Tony Hennessy, of Tasmania, rode away from the state Capitol in Sacramento on the first leg of an 18,000-mile trip that will take them to the capitals of 47 other states and nine Canadian provinces. It's Mutchler's longest journey yet.

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."



DONATIONS to either PolioPlus or to support Motorcycle Bob's rides can be made through Motorcyclists for Awareness of Children's HealthClick here for a donation form.  If you would like to be a sponsor or join Motorcycle Bob on a ride, contact Bob at

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