Motorcycle Bob Mutchler is visiting Juneau this week to cap a 50-state tour to promoting polio eradication.
A polio survivor himself, Mutchler spent the summer touring the country on his motorcycle and visited 48 state capitals in 27 days. Determined to fulfill his goal of visiting all 50 capitals, he had to leave his bike behind Thursday but still brought his message to Alaska. He also has visited Honolulu without his bike.
"Until we immunize that last child our world will continue to be at risk and our children will continue to be at risk," he said.
An owner of a piano restoration business in Folsom, Calif., Mutchler, 58, contracted polio when he was 9 months old and spent the next three years in a hospital. He relies on crutches for mobility because of the muscle atrophy in his legs, but that hasn't stopped him from riding a motorcycle thousands of miles on multiple continents.
"I think at some point in all of our lives we start to realize that there's more to life than just us," he said.
The president of the North Sacramento Rotary Club, Mutchler began his motorcycle rides for polio eradication in 1998 in conjunction with PolioPlus, a project that Rotary International began in 1985. The three Rotary clubs in Juneau sponsored Mutchler's visit to Juneau. He spoke to all three clubs this week as well as conducting other speaking engagements, including a visit with health students at Juneau-Douglas High School.
"As a motorcycle rider he is just incredible," said Carl Ferlauto, president of Juneau-Gastineau Rotary Club. "He's one of those guys that just stepped up."
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Frank Murkowski's special staff assistant Denny DeWitt presented Mutchler with an executive proclamation declaring the day PolioPlus Day in Alaska.
"I think it's important for Bob to come up to be part of the activities that we've done here to raise funds for PolioPlus and to give the moral support and encouragement to finish off the project," DeWitt said.
Ferlauto said in Juneau and across the nation Rotarians are working to eradicate a disease that struck fear in the hearts of Americans as little as 50 years ago.
"Financially Rotarians have put in half a billion dollars into this. By the time we're done, Rotarians out of their own pockets, $600 million," he said.
Mutchler said it is a great relief to come to Juneau and finish what he began.
"This was something that I wanted to do and felt like I really needed to do," he said. "It's an accomplishment, certainly, but more importantly is what have we done as a result of that? Hopefully what has happened as a result of this particular event, and the culmination being Juneau, hopefully we're going to save a lot of children's lives."
Mutchler said he has enjoyed his time in Juneau, but would have liked to see better weather.
"The people here are some of the most wonderful people that I have ever met," he said. "They're sincere. They're down-to-earth. They tell it like it is. You know where you stand, and I appreciate that because that's the kind of person I am."
Mutchler said he intends to keep riding for PolioPlus until the disease has been completely eradicated from the planet.
"I get up every morning and I look out my window and I say, 'It's another day and it's a free day that I wasn't promised yesterday.' And that's how I live my life," he said.