Bishop’s son cycles for a cause

Published June 1, 2008

Oblivious to the rain, a determined Ramesh Ferris cycles on to pursue his 7,200-kilometre journey across Canada to raise funds for the global eradication of polio.

As he hand-cycled last spring on the scenic Yellowhead Highway leading up to Alberta’s steep Obed Summit, it rained, and Ramesh Ferris found himself covered in dirt.

“Add to that all of the chain grease that accumulates on my jersey every day as I cycle, and you can imagine that I was feeling pretty gross by the end of the day,” he wrote on his blog, or Internet diary.

Nonetheless, the experience was a good reminder of why he set off on an epic 7,200-kilometre hand cycling journey across Canada.

In the world, “we have a culture of crawlers: children, teenagers and adults that have had their legs paralyzed for life because they did not receive the polio vaccine that would have protected them for life,” reflected Mr. Ferris. “In the lives of these crawlers, they are almost always dirty, because many of them depend on cut up pieces of tires for their knees, and sandals on their hands to drag them through the streets of where they live.”

With the help of family, friends, and supporters, including Rotary International, Mr. Ferris has launched Cycle to Walk, a campaign to raise funds and awareness for the global eradication of polio and to help support the rehabilitation of polio survivors in poor countries. The campaign, launched on April 12, the 53rd anniversary of the release of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, will end in November in Cape Spear, Nfld., the same place where Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope campaign began.

A 28-year-old polio survivor, Mr. Ferris was adopted from India in 1982 by Bishop Ronald Ferris (then the bishop of Yukon and now the bishop of Algoma), and his wife, Jan. He had contracted polio at six months old and his biological mother, who could not afford to care for him, put him up for adoption. “I would have died if she didn’t take me to the orphanage. When you have polio, you’re susceptible to respiratory illnesses,” said Mr. Ferris in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal, 11 days into his journey.

In 2002, Mr. Ferris visited India to meet his biological mother and visit the orphanage he once called home. He saw “the devastating reality” for polio victims with no rehabilitative support, and vowed to help.

“A lot of people were surprised that the campaign has to do with polio because it’s a non-issue for most Canadians. They think it has been dealt with. But when I talk about how 4.5 million Canadians are not protected (from the viral infection), they listen,” said Mr. Ferris. “I would hope that by doing this (campaign), Canadians will open their hearts and their wallets and put Canada’s support behind this and send out a message of unity.”

(Canada’s immunization rate against polio is at 89 per cent, leaving 11 per cent vulnerable to infection.)

Part of Mr. Ferris’ tour includes speaking to churches (not just Anglican), schools and community organizations.

The campaign hopes to educate and raise $10 million, or $1 for each polio survivor worldwide.

Mr. Ferris said 75 per cent of money raised would go toward Rotary International’s PolioPlus immunization program, and the rest for rehabilitation and education.

A single dose of vaccine costs as little as $0.60 U.S., said Mr. Ferris, but polio remains endemic in four countries – Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It has also resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had 41 new cases in 2007. In today’s world where travel to virtually any part of the world is possible, “all non-immunized people are at risk,” he noted. “As long as there’s a single case, no country is polio-free.” The polio virus enters through the mouth and multiplies in tonsils and lymph nodes before proceeding to the gastrointestinal tract. It can cause paralysis within hours.

Mr. Ferris’ parents and siblings have lent their support to his campaign.

“We’re all very proud of him,” said Jan Ferris.

“He has great leadership skills and tremendous drive and determination,” said Bishop Ferris, who adds that his son learned to walk with a brace at age three. At age nine, he had a paper route and since he couldn’t take the whole stack of papers at once he had to make several trips to deliver them all. He was also a youth leader in Algoma and student president at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont.

“It was very touching to hear my father say, ‘you’ve already exceeded our expectations,'” said Mr. Ferris. “It meant a lot to me.”

Mr. Ferris’ tour included a ceremonial launch in Whitehorse, where his father was a former bishop and where he first learned to walk using assistive devices following extensive orthopedic surgeries. In July, he will pass through his father’s diocese of Algoma, travelling from Thunder Bay, Ont., east to Espanola and across Manitoulin Island.

For more information about Mr. Ferris’ campaign, visit his Web site,


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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