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Watertown Rotary holds swim marathon Feb. 23 to raise money to fight polio

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Watertown Noon Rotary Club members and supporters aim to help eradicate polio one lap at a time.

From 8:15 to 10:15 a.m. Saturday, club members invite anyone to participate in their second annual Rotary Global Swimarathon. An international event with participation from more than 200 Rotary clubs around the globe, the swim marathon seeks sponsors and swimmers to raise funds toward Rotary’s effort of covering the cost of polio vaccines, supplies and their distribution in countries where they’re needed most.

“The goal is to get as many swimmers as possible, and as much money as possible,” said Diana K. Woodhouse, Watertown Noon Rotary foundation committee chairwoman. “The goal is also to increase awareness about Rotary and that polio is not an eradicated disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, polio is “a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines.”

Mrs. Woodhouse, who is also the Hospice of Jefferson County chief executive officer, said through efforts of Rotarians and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the number of countries where polio is considered an epidemic has been brought down to three: Afghanistan, Pakistan and southern Nigeria.

“If we don’t eradicate polio, it can mutate,” Mrs. Woodhouse said. “It could be a plane ride away. We can’t let our guard down against polio.”

She said polio was a problem in our nation until the 1960s, when an oral vaccine became available.

Last year’s local swim marathon raised $3,500. Mrs. Woodhouse said she’d like to see this year’s amount soar to $8,000. All funds will be sent to the Rotary International Foundation.

The history behind the event, she said, came from a club in Grantham, England, which hosted a swimming event to benefit local charities. Mrs. Woodhouse said that club challenged people last year to participate to set a Guinness World Records mark for the most people worldwide swimming in one hour. The event was modified this year to get as many willing participants as possible to swim in one day.

Mrs. Woodhouse said the Y donated the two-hour pool time for Rotary’s efforts.

Each participant is encouraged to collect pledges from sponsors, and then swim 100 meters, which is six laps of the Y pool. There is no set time within which people have to participate.

The event is open to people of all ages. Participants are encouraged to call Mrs. Woodhouse at 788-7323 to preregister.

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