Oh, The People You'll Meet
The internet is a wild place, full of trolls and angels around every turn.
But on January 1, 2021 I had a wonderful exchange with a fellow aspiring Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker, Class of 2021 discussing polio. He commended Owen's Odyssey and the task at hand.
It turns out that he has a very personal connection with polio.
The following are the words of fellow hiker, Jim Trumm:
"In my first memories of my father, he walked with a limp. By the time I was 8 he walked with a cane. When I was 12 he used a wheelchair to cross any distance of more than 100 feet or so.
The disease made him more vulnerable to accidents. When I was quite young, he fell while getting onto an elevator and broke both his legs. Since he was not able to exercise much, he put on weight, which contributed to hypertension. He had a massive stroke when I was 18 which rendered him aphasic and unable to move any part of his body except his head and one arm. He lingered for six years after that, unable to communicate, trapped in an almost useless body. My mother cared for him at home during those years, an effort that was heartbreaking but heroic.
My father’s handicap affected me and my social development in my early years. In the community where I was brought up, it was expected that boys would be athletic to some degree. Other boys’ dads could teach them how to throw a football, how to make a jump shot, how to bat a baseball, how to go camping, but I got none of that. This made me pretty lonely in my early years. His stroke occurred when I was 18, after which I was never able to talk with him—so I never really had an adult relationship with him.
I think it’s important to understand that polio is not just the disease—it’s a general weakening of the body’s constitution that renders it very susceptible to other illnesses and to injuries. And it’s important to understand that it affects not only the person who has it, but has generational effects down the line.
The polio vaccine became available in 1955, more than ten years too late for my dad. I would have given much if somehow the disease could have been prevented. It robbed my father of his health and ultimately, his life; it robbed me of many aspects of a father-son relationship. This is why when I see people refusing to vaccinate their children it makes me furious. Perhaps if they had some living experience with the disease, they would not so cavalierly dismiss the vaccine's importance. As a member of the last generation to know what it was like to grow up with someone who was handicapped by the disease, I feel compelled to bear witness.
I'm aware that there are at least three countries where polio is still an active threat—and I applaud your efforts to raise awareness of that. But I also fear a resurgence of the disease here in the US. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything about ourselves as Americans, it is that we are susceptible to extravagant, irrational, and anti-scientific misinformation and conspiracy theories—and that there is an alarmingly large number of people who don’t believe they have any responsibility to other people to prevent the spread of a crippling and fatal disease.
PS—My mother was from Johnstown [Pennsylvania]. Many memories of visiting my grandmother in Westmont and riding the Incline Plane." -Jim Trumm of Oregon
Fortunately, Jim, the world is down to two countries that are endemic with polio (Pakistan and Afghanistan). We are creeping closer to our goal of creating a polio free world to prevent any further suffering caused by this disease.
Like Jim, if you wish to support polio eradication, you can buy a custom Owen's Odyssey Buff, or purchase an oil painting from Rotarian George Lewis, or make a direct donation. Owen's Odyssey fundraising goal is $100,000 CASH which will later be matched 2:1 (+$200,000) from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For additional ways to support the Odyssey, tell a friend about this project. Share the posts on social media. Be sure to follow and like the posts on Facebook and Instagram. The more followers of these social media pages, the more exposure the project will receive.