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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Rotary Club ready to roll for World Polio Day
Bill French stands ready for his ride on Oct. 22, with Syme Jago. (Brittany Carter)

If growing up a polio survivor infused Syme Jago with one quality, she says it was determination, a trait the Niagara-on-the-Lake resident says the NOTL Rotary Club has in abundance.

She agreed to act as spokesperson for the service club’s efforts for World Polio Day on Oct. 24. NOTL Rotary is hosting Participate for Polio, which will bring together two members from 30 southern Ontario Rotary Clubs across the district for a bike ride in support of End Polio Now.

Internationally, World Polio Day sees UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Rotary International combining forces to collectively eradicate polio around the globe.

For Jago, who was a child actor and co-star of "The Forest Rangers" TV series before a long career in theatre and event production, the cause is  close to her heart. It's something she says people need to continue being educated about.

Polio, which can be a life-threatening disease that may cause paralysis, doesn’t end with the vaccine. For many, like Jago, post-polio syndrome, a nerve disorder, can resurface years after recovery.

“So, in North America right now there's two million people that have post-polio syndrome. In Canada, there's 30,000 registered with the March of Dimes, but we believe that the actual number is much higher,” she says.

That's because in the late 1940s and the 1950s, "when people had a child with polio, very often, the parents and the children had the mentality that they couldn’t tell anybody they had polio.”

There’s a whole generation of people who have already lived through a pandemic and, as Jago remembers it, the similarities between COVID-19 and the polio pandemic are “quite stark.”

“The thing I find interesting, too, is I can describe summertime. Schools generally close, but movie theatres closed, playgrounds closed. People wouldn't take their children to the grocery store. And I'm not talking about this past summer with COVID. That was 1953 in Toronto, with the polio epidemic.”

She says she hopes the similarities between what people are living through now with the coronavirus and what she experienced with polio growing up help people realize the seriousness of polio – and that there’s still so much work to do to fully eradicate it.

Rotary International began its fight against polio in 1979 and has since helped reduce polio cases worldwide by 99.9 per cent.

“It's Rotary’s biggest, most important initiative ever," says Bill French, chair of NOTL Rotary’s Participate for Polio event.

"It's working everywhere. It's one of those things that we’re really, really, really close, but we still have a fairly significant way to go, because it's not done till it's all done,” 

French says the district’s overall goal is to raise $200,000 (U.S.) for World Polio Day. The district goal for this ride is $45,000 (U.S.). 

“If we raised the 200,000 USD, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will add $400,000 USD. It kind of has potential to be big,” he says.

Before the district ride on Oct. 24, French says 14 members of the NOTL Rotary will also be doing a smaller Participate for Polio walk/ride on Oct. 22, depending on the weather. The group will remain small to allow for social distancing measures as well, he says.

“This is a very observant group when it comes to COVID. We (Rotary) do a lot of work for disease prevention, so we get it. It’s going to be a small group,” he says.

But that group still aims to do its part in fundraising, with a local goal of $10,000. As of Wednesday morning, $12,750 has been raised by the NOTL group. The district had raised 90 per cent of its goal by Wednesday morning, logging $40,000 (U.S.) raised.

“To me, this was part of the magic of Rotary,” he says. What began with a few clubs in the Philippines in 1979 to vaccinate children has since partnered with several organizations to create this “massive international initiative,” initially spearheaded by Rotary.

Jago says she’s impressed with the efforts of Rotary to eradicate polio and hopes the work will continue to include relief for patients with post-polio syndrome as well. And though at 67 she’s lived her entire life with the lasting effects of the disease, she says it was important for her to always maintain a sense of humour and to be practical about her reality.

“I think it also gave me a good sense of humour," she says.

One thing she hopes people understand is that while she is telling her story of living with polio, it is only her own story.

“Don't lump us all in together … I can only tell you my story,” Jago says.

“Just as you could walk into a room full of general people, everybody's story is going to be different. You can walk into a room of polio survivors and all of our stories are going to be different. So, I think I want people to see us as individuals and then the fact that we had polio. That's not who I am. That's just a part of me,” she says.

To support World Polio Day this year, visit to make a donation.