Trials to triumph over polio


It is so easy to forget things from the past. The saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” applies here. It has been said a wise person strives to learn from the past and not to make the same mistakes over and over again. An epidemic that nobody that is 40 years old or younger aren’t aware of and that you don’t hear anybody talking about is the polio epidemic of the late 1940s and early to mid-1950s.

For many in my generation (I am 71), it brings up a scary time for many parents and children who lived through it. It hits home to me because I am a survivor of the 1949 New Jersey polio epidemic. My story begins as a very young child. My father was a career Navy man. After I was born in Bloomington, Indiana, on Aug.15, 1948, my father was stationed at Red Bank, New Jersey. While [he was] stationed, I contracted polio when I was 11 months old in the New Jersey polio epidemic.

The navy was so overwhelmed by the number of patients that I was moved to the Monmouth Medical Center. I was there for about six months inpatient and one year as an outpatient. After that, I had to go through about four years of physical therapy. It was very taxing because I was at a military therapy center. They didn’t want to hear why you couldn’t do what they asked. You were expected to do what they wanted you to do. My family, especially my mom, were a great support to me during this time. But in the end, that approach was very effective. I believe that is why I have always believed you can only work through the problems you are facing by [confronting] them.

The rehab for polio I went through played an important part in my life and my future. I was always athletic in school and did well enough to complete in two sport in college at IU.

I ran track and played soccer, which led to coaching opportunities once I graduated from IU in 1971. I was assistant track coach and gymnastics coach (I know some of you are wondering, why gymnastics).

My roommate in college was Steve Geiger, a gymnast at IU. He had me work at the meets. I learned an awful lot about the sport in doing so. Besides that, part of the curriculum at IU in physical education was two full semesters of gymnastics. That is how I really got my background in the sport to be able to be the assistant coach at Jeffersonville HS until I came to Seymour in 1974. The years I was at Jeffersonville HS, the gymnastics team was state runner-up twice and fourth in the middle year. The track team at Jeffersonville was equally successful. There were a number of state champions I was blessed to work with.

At the time, soccer was not even considered by many a sport that would ever have an impact in this country. I loved the sport from playing the sport at IU and with another IU graduate, Tom Davis, started intramural sports in Greater Clark County Schools. Girls basketball, co-ed soccer and elementary cross-country and track were part of the program. I enjoyed my time in Greater Clark County Schools the three years I was there, but when the opportunity came to move on to a wonderful opportunity in Seymour, it was a “no-brainer.”

The way I got to Seymour is an interesting story in itself. Barney Scott’s sister was married to Dave Hedge, the Utica Elementary principal.

I had their children at Ewing Lang Elementary School. Barney, in 1974, knew Seymour Community Schools was wanting to start an elementary physical education program but also knew Jeffersonville had boys gymnastics and Seymour was wanting to start boys gymnastics.

He asked his brother-in law, Dave Hedge, who would be the best person in Greater Clark County Schools that could do this. My name came up in his discussion with Dave. What is interesting further is when Barney talked to Terry Cummins, the principal at Jeffersonville HS, my name came up again. The die had been cast. I had the privilege to came to Seymour in the fall of 1974.

I was so blessed to meet and work with so many wonderful people and students during my time in Seymour. I considered it a great honor to share my life with all those I had an opportunity to meet and work with. How many people in their lifetime get to be a part of starting four varsity sports at a high school in the state of Indiana. For me, I would have never guessed I would have had this kind of opportunity.

Even though my life started in a very difficult way by contracting polio at a very young age, I am thankful to all those that helped me get through that time in my life. If I could go back and thank every one of them, if I knew who they were, I would.

All the people that invested themselves in my life, my family, my pastors, my Sunday teachers, my teachers in school — with my dad being career military, I went to 24 different public schools in my 13 years of public education — all the coaches that worked with me growing up, and my professors and coaches at IU, had a huge impact on my life.

It all started with polio, but it did not end that way. I was one of the fortunate ones. So many lives were forever changed if they were fortunate to survive. So many deaths during this time.

I wanted to remind you, during this challenging time in our country’s history, that the COVID-19 virus can only define us if we let it. As with the parents and patients from the polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, we need to be ever mindful how we handle the things that come our way.

We will get through this. I have full confidence in that. My parents got through it, I got through it, and I know you and our country will get through this as well. God bless you and keep you safe, but we do need to realize we have to do our part by taking the proper precautions that we have been asked to do. Be at peace and know the web of influence in your life is always there for you.

Footnote: Many of the effects of polio when originally contracted come back to some degree after 30 to 40 years. I have had to deal with this to some degree as have many other polio survivors.

Daniel Drummond, a longtime resident of Seymour, now lives in New Albany. Send comments to [email protected].

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