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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Tulsan to Bike Across America to Raise Funds for Polio Eradication

By Vanessa Glavinskas
Guest Writer

READY TO RIDE: Tulsan Bob McKenzie displays his jersey from last year’s Race Across America. The photo was taken during a meeting at the Rotary Club of Tulsa

GTR Newspapers Photo

Tulsan Bob McKenzie will be riding his bicycle this year for the sixth time in Race Across America (RAAM), one of the most respected and longest running endurance sports events in the world.

In explaining why he rides in the annual race, McKenzie says, “We have assembled a four-rider team along with a crew to represent rotary clubs from around the world participating in the Polio Plus campaign to eradicate Polio throughout the world. This race starts on June 17th, 2017 in Oceanside, California and we hope to reach the finish by June 24 in Annapolis, Maryland. We will travel approximately 3,000 miles. Please support and follow us as we prepare and race this event.”

(Though RAAM is not a fundraising event itself, teams use the event for various fundraising activities in addition to the Rotary effort.)

For seven days last June, at a pace of 18-plus miles per hour, McKenzie and three other cyclists labored across the U.S. from Oceanside to Annapolis. A 12-member crew followed in an RV and two vans, allowing the bikers to ride in shifts. “Every eight hours we’d swap riders and two of us would rest,” McKenzie explains. “But at some points it was 118 degrees and we were swapping about every 15 minutes.” McKenzie was encouraged by his wife Darlene, who served as a crew chief.

The team also included Rotarian Kurt Matzler. McKenzie organized the group, and the Rotary Fellowship Cycling to Serve helped generate international interest. McKenzie, who is 65, took up racing five years ago after reading a story in The Rotarian magazine about the Ride to End Polio, organized by District 5500 in Arizona. 

In the Race Across America, his team took in $300,000 for polio eradication with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2-for-1 match. 

Just as impressive, the team finished second in its age group and ninth overall out of 41 teams.

“It’s exciting to think that soon no more kids will be affected by polio,” McKenzie says, “and more kids will be able to walk or ride a bike because of Rotary.” 

RAAM is seen as a pinnacle of athletic achievement not only in cycling circles but the greater sporting community as well.

RAAM has a rich and storied history. In 1982 four individuals raced from the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to the Empire State Building in New York City. Covered by national television, the race captivated the public’s imagination. Teams were added in 1992 and quickly became the most popular and fastest growing segment of the race. Relay team racing made the event accessible to any reasonably fit cyclist. The 2016 race will be the 35th edition of RAAM.

There is no other race in the world like RAAM, says McKenzie. The Race inspires everyone who has been a part of it – racer, crew, staff and fans alike. RAAM is the true test of speed, endurance, strength and camaraderie, the ideal combination of work and fun. There is no race that matches the distance, terrain and weather, no other event that tests a team’s spirit from beginning to end.

Updated 06-13-2017

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