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Cyclist rides to fight polio worldwide
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IRB Rotarian Bruce Sobut, wearing his favorite Rotary International bike shirt, has just completed a cross-Florida bike ride to raise money to eradicate polio in the world.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Bruce Sobut has just finished a 167-mile bicycle ride across Florida. For that effort he will collect more than $4,000 from various sponsors to help fight polio in countries where it still exists.

A 167-mile bike ride is no small feat; neither is raising thousands of dollars for a cause. You might think Sobut, 55, of Indian Rocks Beach, has been doing this for years but in fact he’s relatively new to the world of long distance cycling and to the realization that polio still exists in some countries of the world.

First came the cycling. Two years ago a fellow member of the IRB Rotary club, Michael Schulz, drummed up support among club members to enter the annual ALS ride for a Cure. At the time Schultz’s mother had just been diagnosed with the disease. Sobut got involved to help his friend.

“When Michael’s mother was diagnosed, Michael wanted to get riding,” he said. “It was a 63-mile ride and it was a major task. That’s how I got back to a longer distance type of riding. Actually I’ve been riding bikes my whole life, even when I was a kid so you might say I’ve been an on and off cyclist for a long time.”

Since that first 63-mile ride two years ago Sobut hasn’t stopped.

“After the 63-mile ride I decided I wanted to do a 100-mile ride,” he said. “That led to my first Cross-Florida ride last year, April 1, 2012. It is an all-day ride and you have to bring everything with you, food and drink and so on. With just over 20 miles left to go my knee gave out and I had to stop. But I had done 140 miles so I wasn’t discouraged.”

After that Sobut entered several 100-mile events including what is known as the Horrible Hundred in Clermont.

“They call it that because it includes a Category 5 hill which you have to climb,” he said. “That was my first experience with such a climb, but it wasn’t so bad, there are worse ones out there.”

It was searching for rides and races that caused Sobut to stumble onto the fight against polio, which is a cause embraced by Rotary International.

“I was looking through the Rotarian Magazine when I came across an article about a ride in Arizona set up specifically to raise money for fighting polio,” he said. “They had neat riding shirts and I thought I’d like to get one so I sent away for a shirt. Then I noticed that ride raised $375,000 so when I got my shirt I decided to ride for polio.”

Sobut went to the IRB Rotary club and quickly raised $600 for the cause. Then he went to a Rotary Foundation Dinner and raised another $800.

“It was then I thought, wow, I’m onto something here,” he said. “As assistant governor of my Rotary District I was then able to visit all the clubs and I raised some more money for my second Cross-Florida ride. By the time all the money is collected it should be in the neighborhood of $4,500.”

So on April 1st of this year Sobut set out on his second Cross-Florida Ride. It started in Cocoa Beach and ended in Weeki Wachee. There was no stopping him this time; he completed the entire 167-mile trek in 10 hours and 32 minutes.

“I’d try to stop every hour or so. I had two water bottles so they had to be filled and you need to keep taking in calories so I’d have a power bar each time I stopped,” he said. “I’d eat lots of grapes along the ride as well; they are easy to eat while you are cycling.”

It isn’t quite true to say there was no stopping him this time. A motorist nearly did him in as he was getting close to the finish.

“I was cycling through San Antonio and some guy in a car cut me off as he was making a turn and sent me right off the road, he rode me right off into the dirt.”

The story of Sobut’s exploits on his bicycle is impressive to his old friend Michael Schulz, who got him involved in the first place.

“I’ve seen his fitness change since we started the ride,” he said. “He’s much stronger than anyone else in the group; he has taken off with it.”

Schulz, whose mother died last year of ALS, said watching Sobut has given him the motivation to get back into riding.

“I cut back quite a bit since my mom passed but I do have plans to start over again,” he said. “It is great exercise. We used to go every Sunday morning and I want to get back into that routine again.”

Schulz says he hopes to be able to join Sobut on the Cross-Florida ride next year.

The fight against polio is as much responsible for Sobut’s cycling as is the fitness aspect of it. One can hear the dedication in his voice as he talks about polio and how close the world is to eradicating it altogether.

“It costs 60 cents to immunize a child,” he said. “I did the math and with the money I raised 6,700 kids will get the vaccine. We’re getting very close to eliminating polio in the world. Last year there were only 18 cases diagnosed in only three countries; Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. One of those vaccines could be the one, the last one that immunizes the last child and stop the spread of polio, stop the existence of polio.”

Sobut said that is the message he brings to the Rotary clubs as he tries to raise more money for the cause. That the dollar you donate might buy the last vaccine that will ever be needed. He said that is a humbling thought.

“That is what is so exciting,” he said. “You could be saving a child’s life. It makes you realize that what you are doing on a bicycle is pretty insignificant by comparison.”
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