Hannes Richter

Austrian on a Unique Mission

Hannes Richter

He has mastered the art of going without sleep for days and staying fresh. Perhaps that is why he feels he had the power to do the impossible. In a back-breaking effort to raise awareness about polio, a highly infectious and crippling disease caused by a virus mainly in children under five years of age, the three-time Austrian triathlon champion, Sepp Resnik, completed a mission to realize an unbelievable feat - to bicycle around the world. In a total of 62 days, Resnik pedalled 24,343 kilometers (14,913 miles), raising 174 million Euros (220 million US Dollars) - for the Polio Plus immunization program. Donations, collected from 38 various countries by the Rotary Club, will go for their project, "World without Polio."

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This is a man who is different in every sense of the word. He has logged record distances in swimming, marathon and cycling. It was when I read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne that I got the idea of going around the world on a bicycle ."I successfully completed that world tour in 80 days, but later a German also did the same so I decided to try again and the second time it took me only 66 days," says Resnik. An accident and a broken leg last year did not come in the way of attempting a similar feat again. "I was lying in a hospital in Salzburg thinking of my next trip. And though I was immobilized and had to undergo six complicated surgeries, here I am once again," claimed Resnik.

He traveled from Graz in Austria to Turkey, across Asia, through Australia, onto the United States, back through Portugal, and finally arrived in Vienna. The oceans were crossed by plane. On numerous occasions the tour was threatened to disband. On the thirteenth day of his tour, for example, the accompanying one-man truck, essentially used for tracking, broke down in the middle of the Iranian desert and had to be replaced by a taxi and driver who accompanied him a further 8,000 miles. Resnik pedaled between 115 and 190 miles, ten hours a day.

"I started on October 26, 2003 and passed through 456 bigger cities before completing my world tour on December 31, 2003. From December 1-17, he pedaled through the U.S. from Los Angeles to New York. "My aim was to make the Polio Plus initiative known, and I was calling upon the people en route to donate," he said. And while he got some rest at the Austrian Embassies in India and Washington, D.C., he had a miraculous escape in Afghanistan when a man tried to attack him from behind with a sharp weapon, mistaking him for an American. As Resnik put it, "He( the assailant) had lost his father, brother and son in the war in Afghanistan. I only heard his story after a group of people tried to gain control over him. That nothing happened was perhaps my karma," admitted Resnik.

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Resnik was always right on schedule, despite travelling through sun and snow. "The most harrowing terrain was my passage through Iran. The land is endless and the deserts are hostile, barren, and with absolutely no water. Once I made the mistake of wearing shorts in parts of Tehran where it is not permitted and I was stoned," he claimed. Also, during Ramadan, food was hard to get. "I would tell them, I respect your religion but I haven’t eaten or drunken anything. I am hungry. It was then that they fed me."

Sepp Resnik’s motives were straight forward - to help make Polio Plus known by holding press conferences on his route and calling upon the people to donate in the fight against the disease. Poliomyelitis strikes one out of every 200 cases and leads within hours to paralysis, mainly of the legs, and sometimes even death. Some 10-15% of all victims die due to paralyzed muscles necessary for breathing.

Once contracted, polio can’t be healed; it can only be prevented. A child vaccinated multiple times can be protected for the rest of his life. Each vaccine costs 0,60$ US. To this end, Sepp Resnik has gone beyond his calling.