5K on Northwestern campus raises money, awareness for polio

Ariel Yong

Many people have forgotten about the deadly disease of polio, said John Osterlund, a member of the Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse.

For Osterlund and those who participated in the club’s Race to End Polio 5K Sunday, its eradication remains a primary goal.

“It has been the organization’s top priority for more than 25 years,” said Osterlund, general manager of the Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

Sunday morning, about 150 Evanston residents and members of both the Rotaract Club of Northwestern University and the Evanston Township High School Interact Club participated in the race. Participants both ran and walked 3.1 miles along the lakefront on NU’s campus to raise money for and awareness of polio. Runners ranged in age from young children to teenagers and adults, and many sported bright red race T-shirts with the phrase “End Polio Now” written across the back.

Polio remains prevalent in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where children are at risk due to a lack of available vaccinations. The Rotary Club has been immunizing children since 1985 and has more than 33,000 chapters in 200 countries, according to its website.

Although there is no cure for polio, the money from the race will be spent to administer a special immunization that helps prevent the disease.

“To date, Rotarians have contributed more than $1 billion toward this effort,” Osterland said. “By and large, people in the United States have forgotten about polio. However, in the three remaining endemic countries, polio is real.”

In the past, the race has been held in September, but it has not occurred in recent years, Osterland said. He said he was excited that this year’s race was Evanston’s first lakefront event for 2012.

Race winner Reuben Keller of Evanston said he thinks very few people are actually aware of the seriousness of polio in the world today.

“It’s been gone from the United States for a long time, and it’s kind of out of our consciousness a little bit, but it’s still a large crippling disease across those three countries,” said Keller, an assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago.

Keller said he has previously competed in many 5K races but had never won until Sunday. However, he emphasized the goal of the race over his personal accomplishment of winning.

“Races like this and what the Rotary does is really important,” he said. “Polio can be the next smallpox, so if we can get rid of it, it’d be a really good thing.”

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