Australian tandem bike ride raises awareness for polio eradication

Phil and Joyce Ogden set off from Perth
Phil and Joyce Ogden set out from Perth, Australia, on their ride across the Nullarbor Plain to raise money and awareness for Rotary’s polio eradication efforts.

By Phil and Joyce Ogden, Rotary Club of South Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

My wife Joyce and I enjoy tandem cycling. Two years ago, when I met somebody who had cycled the Nullarbor Plain in Australia, a seed was planted in the back of my mind that maybe this was a challenge for us to do in the future.

We are closer than ever to ending polio. We have reduced cases by 99.9% since 1988. With our partners, Rotary has immunized more than 2.5 billion children worldwide to end polio for good.  But we’re not there yet and we can’t afford to be complacent.

As a doctor, I am aware that polio is a disease which has the potential to be totally eradicated. But with a lot of distractions lately, floods, fires and droughts in Australia, war in Europe and the COVID-19 pandemic a threat in all countries, we were concerned that if Rotary took its eye off the ball, polio cases could flare up again. 

Origins of the idea

Joyce and I are both 72 years old. When I first proposed that we ride across the Nullarbor Plain on our tandem bicycle, Joyce did not take me seriously. I couldn’t stop thinking about it but she certainly did not want me riding solo unsupported for a month or more.  When I dreamed up this crazy fundraising scheme, she changed her mind and together we made the commitment to take on the challenge of riding from Perth to Adelaide as a couple.

We decided to do it, not as a holiday, but to draw attention to the End Polio Now campaign and to attract donations with a sense of urgency, hoping that with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation doubling the contributions we brought in, that we might get this over the line.

I put it to Joyce that we could take on this ride of almost 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) to highlight Rotary’s role in eradicating polio and to raise money to vaccinate as many people as possible.

  • Team Ogden in Tasmania
  • With the Mayor of Launceston (right).
  • Phil and Joyce set off from Perth.
  • Being interviewed by the Southern Cross Television crew.
  • Making their way east toward the Nullarbor Plain.
  • Last day of the ride

Late in March this year, we looked at logistics and weather patterns and realized that to take this on, we had to get organized, as there was only a small window of opportunity for favorable wind and reasonable temperatures.  There wasn’t time to organize a support vehicle.  We were quite used to riding our tandem unsupported in Europe, where we often ride. But there a welcoming coffee shop is never far away. We knew it would be a different situation on the Nullarbor, and realized we had to carry everything we needed including water and make special arrangements for gas so we could cook when there were no roadhouses.

The team enlists help

By the time I put it to the Rotary Club of South Launceston to see about making it a Rotary project, there was only six weeks to prepare.

The club referred us to the District 9830 End Polio Now Chair, Marion Cooper, then she called on Assistant Regional Public Image Coordinator, Roslyn Teirney, and then Zone 8 End Polio Now Coordinator, Past District Governor Bob Aitken.

With their support, the project really took off and Joyce and I realized we were not alone. They helped us get set up on Raise for Rotary, The Rotary Foundation’s peer-to-peer fundraising tool, which couldn’t be easier to use. While we concentrated on our own physical wellbeing and training. “Team Ogden” handled the promotion internally, home hosting and speaking engagements at Rotary clubs en route, generating a mountain of publicity.

The enthusiasm that we’ve had from Rotary colleagues we did not even know has been amazing.

And the team opened opportunities for us to get the message out to the wider community all along the way, first in newspapers, then with radio interviews, television, Rotary magazines, on district websites, social media, civic receptions, and at Rotary events. The publicity and word of mouth has been something we had not dared to hope for.

Call to action video

District Governor Heather Chong and Past District Governor Michael Cooke authorized district funds to create a Call to Action video.

The Rotary Zone 8 End Polio team and Public Image team have given our End Polio campaign a tremendous amount of publicity, but better than that, they’ve helped us collect over $35,000 AUD (about US$24,600). When we factor in the Gates Foundation boost, that’s a total of $105,000 (US$73,800) and we’re still keeping the appeal open until World Polio Day on 24 October.

We’re home safely now and can look back on the long, grueling days and the risks in sharing the highway with road trains (a long trucking vehicle used to move road freight more efficiently than semi-trailer trucks), We also remember warm Rotary hospitality and characters we met all along the way. Joyce suffered serious saddle soreness but was determined to finish the ride.

We want everybody who possibly can contribute to support our Raise for Rotary appeal and help us end polio now. We’ve already had quite a deluge of donations. And we just want to say thank you for everybody’s generosity and wish you all a Happy and Hopeful World Polio Day for 2022.

For World Polio Day, promote End Polio Now in your community by planning a fundraiser or event. Register your events on endpolio.org

1 thought on “Australian tandem bike ride raises awareness for polio eradication

  1. Pingback: A new weapon against polio - Rotary International -

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