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USF professor cycles across from coast to coast to fight polio

TAMPA — The lone cyclist began his ascent on a mountain range in southern California.

He reached down to his handlebar to kick his steel, 10-speed Raleigh bicycle into its highest gear. An old wound on his thumb compelled his middle and index fingers to complete the task.

Closing in on cresting the plateau at 4,800 feet, the cyclist realized that with nearly 100 pounds of water and pack, that he was pedaling slower than if he were walking the bike.

He stepped off and pushed his bike to the summit. He now had just 2,400 miles to go.

A man and his mission.

The man is 67-year-old Nick Hall. His mission? Snuff out the polio virus from the face of the earth. Hall, a microbiology professor at the University of South Florida, longtime Temple Terrace Rotary Club member and chair of the club's End Polio Now campaign, rode across country to raise money and awareness for the crusade.

He had done it before — when he was much younger.

In 1965, he biked from South Dakota to Chicopee, Mass. In 1967, he biked from South Dakota all the way to Mexico and down the Baja Peninsula.

Flash forward to 2002. Hall decided to kayak the Everglades Challenge, an aquatic path that stretches from Fort De Soto to Key Largo. It was the Everglades Challenge that let Hall know that he could undertake an unassisted bicycle trip across the country, even at 67.

How? Hall used a pedal-driven kayak for the journey. The pedaling encouraged him that he could still make a cross country trek on a bicycle.

"I ended up doing mostly pedaling (on the Everglades trip)," Hall said. "After that, my legs were in tip-­top shape and when I got onto the bike, it wasn't that difficult."

On July 14 of this year, Hall dipped his back tire into the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside, Calif., near San Diego and began his nearly 2,500-mile trip across the country before dipping his front tire in the Atlantic Ocean at Vilano Beach in St. Augustine, on Aug. 15 in front of family, friends and fellow Rotary members.

Destiny would have a hand in nearly every aspect of Hall's journey.

He found the same model bicycle on eBay that he used to ride in the 1960s, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of his very first cross country trip, and Hall turned 67 this year paralleling his 1967 trek through Baja.

As the details of Hall's trip cosmically aligned, so did progress in the battle against polio. On July 24, Nigeria announced it had gone a full year without any new cases.

The news reached Hall in El Paso, Texas, and it meant the virus had cleared from the African continent and is now confined it to just two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We're so close to relegating polio into history," Hall said. "Why not just finish the job?"

Hall, the End Polio Now campaign and Rotary International are trying to raise $100,000 to mount a final push to eliminate polio from the planet. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed to give $2 for each $1 raised, and the effort is well underway.

"As long as there are any active cases, it (polio) is one plane ticket away from showing up in a country where people are not vaccinated," Hall said.

Hall cited the recent measles outbreak in California and noted that while polio is not prevalent in America today, its effect is still felt.

"I reached a point where everywhere I turned I met someone who had a connection with polio in the past," Hall said. "I remember (as a youth) not being able to swim in public pool (for fear of catching the virus)."

Vaccines cost as little as 60 cents. A dollar donation with matching Gates Foundation money buys five vaccines. People interested in donating can get more information from Hall's Facebook page, Pedal Power to End Polio, or contact their local Rotary Club.

Contact Andy Warrener at