Driven to succeed: Steve Stirling’s commitment to eradicate polio is personal

June 09, 2017
Atish Patel/Rotary International
Steve Stirling shakes hands with a child during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign in Delhi.

The Indian sun shone hot on the bright flowing saris, tunics and distressed jeans of tourists ambling the broad walk toward the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra. Steve Stirling, 61, joined the flow, his corporate button-down shirt and slacks marking the rare Westerner in the crowd. 

As the group approached the palatial 350-year-old mausoleum, a guide explained the building’s history and layout.  

“I’m not going in,” Steve declared abruptly. 

Confusion rippled through his companions, but he said it again, his syllables crisp as his cotton shirt front. 

His wife Sook Hee understood immediately why her husband couldn’t come in.

Steve’s attendant pushed his wheelchair off to the side and into the leafy shade, where he waited while his companions toured the famed World Heritage site. 

Speaking a week later at his waterfront home in Brunswick, Steve said the deal-breaker was the soft, disposable coverings visitors were required to slip over their shoes. He might have made it up the steep steps with crutches, he says, but he needed his rubber soles for their grip.

“I’m used to it,” he says. But in truth, Steve Stirling more accustomed to getting his way.

Infected by the polio virus at age 1 and abandoned at an orphanage when he was 6, Steve’s life held out little hope for a bright future. But he was nothing if not determined. He was intent on finding an adoptive family, getting the best education, marrying the belle of the ball, working his way up the executive ranks of the health products industry.  

Yet despite all he has achieved, he remains driven. And all along the way it’s as if every moment, every movement, has been directed at fighting the very notion he is disabled.

Read more of our Personal Journeys.