A bicyclist rolling down the side of a two-lane highway won’t draw much attention. But add a homemade rickshaw made from a blue Barcalounger recliner to the back of the bike and it’s a sight to see.
The rickshaw adds a bit of weight to the ride — 113 pounds to be exact. And St. Louis Rotarian Ralph Zuke is pulling that rickshaw from St. Louis to Houston, TX, to raise funds and awareness about polio, which is close to eradication.
Zuke left St. Louis May 3 and rolled into Jackson Thursday afternoon, May 5. Just after school let out, he visited outside the high school with four members of the Jackson High School Interact Club (a part of Rotary Club that is for high school students). They were Delaney Pipkin, president, Aubrey Brothers, senior rep., Eva Carrasquillo, secretary for next year, and Emma Silliman, next year’s co-president.
Zuke then pedaled uphill to the front of the old county courthouse, where he met Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs. The mayor presented Zuke with a City of Jackson baseball cap. Zuke then invited the mayor to have a seat in the rickshaw, and he took him for a spin around the front of the courthouse. Afterward, Zuke gave the mayor a T-shirt declaring him an “Official Barcalounger Rickshaw Crash Test Dummy.”
Zuke bikes all day and rests at night in motels or in the homes of Rotarians along the way. The Jackson Rotary paid for his stay Thursday night, and a Cape Girardeau Rotary club paid for Saturday night’s stay.
Most of the time, Zuke is riding alone and the rickshaw is empty. At various stops, he gives rides such as the one he gave the mayor. Those rides give him the opportunity to promote the Rotary Club or talk about its efforts to eradicate polio.
When he’s biking along the road, he’s not really all alone. Driving behind him in a pickup is Dwayne Tiggs, who is his “support and gear driver.” Not only does Tiggs provide support and carry additional gear, the truck alerts other drivers to beware of this bicyclist ahead.
When Zuke gets to Houston, he’ll ride back to St. Louis.
This trek of more than 1,000 miles is Zuke’s longest to date. “I’ve been bicycling all my life,” he said. Three years ago, he rode from St. Louis to Toronto, Canada, to raise funds to eliminate polio. Bill and Melinda Gates joined in the fundraising efforts with 2:1 matching funds and Zuke raised about $74,000.
Last year, Zuke rode for 24 hours straight and received donations for each mile. He had no idea how far he would get, but it ended up being 201 miles.
Zuke is glad the Rotary has taken on the task of fighting polio. When it took up the task, there were about 365,000 cases worldwide. Last year, there were 25 or less reported cases, and they were all in two countries: Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although it seems to be nearly eradicated, polio is just “a flight distance away,” commented Brigitte Bollerslev, a Jackson Rotary member who greeted Zuke on his visit here. One case showed up in Malawi last year, and it was from someone who had just come from one of the infected countries.
Zuke would love to see his fundraising help eradicate polio. “It would be a feather in the cap,” he said. The only other disease to be eradicated is smallpox.
If you would like to contribute to his cause, make a check payable to The Rotary Foundation and include the fundraiser ID (2163) and the name of the fundraiser (Raffi Andonian). Mail the check to The Rotary Foundation – Raise for Rotary, 14280 Collections Center Dr., Chicago, IL 60693.
A carpenter by trade, Zuke is a member of the St. Louis Civilians Rotary Club, a satellite club of the big St. Louis Rotary Club.
He wears the name Greg on his sleeve in memory of Greg Yank of O’Fallon, IL, a Rotary district director who died of COVID-19 last year in what Zuke called “typical Rotary fashion.” When the hospital didn’t have enough ventilators for everyone, he refused one so it could be offered to another patient.
Yank taught Zuke his philosophy that led to this bike ride and Barcalounger rickshaw fundraiser: “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing Rotary right.”