Minda Dentler: Polio champion, survivor, athlete, author, and so much more

By: Results Canada Published: 29/04/2024

I’m Minda Dentler, and my journey with polio has been quite an adventure. I was born in Bombay, India, and contracted polio as a baby, which left my legs paralyzed. Unable to care for me, my birth mother left me at an orphanage. Fortunately, I was adopted by an American family and moved to Spokane, Washington when I was three. I had a series of surgeries that allowed me to be able to walk with leg braces and crutches.

Growing up with a disability had its challenges. Even though I felt self-conscious about wearing leg braces, I wanted to show people that I was not limited by my disability. My parents encouraged me to go after my goals. My Dad would often say, “You can do it, Minda, just figure it out!” And so, I did. I learned how to walk and climb stairs, pursued education and career.

Living in New York City, I discovered a passion for sports, and it changed my life. I started handcycling and then triathlons at age 30. After five years of hard work and dedication – training and racing around the world – I made history as the first female wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship. Now, I’m a proud mom of one daughter, a program manager, athlete, advocate, speaker, and author.

My journey with polio and sports has allowed me to inspire others to chase their dreams and never give up.

Minda Dentler crossing the finish line at an IronMan event.

One of the obstacles for me was dealing with the doubts and limitations that society sometimes placed on me because of my disability. There were people who questioned whether I could do certain things just because of how I moved or looked. There were other challenges like accessibility issues, the cost of adaptive equipment, and the need for additional support to navigate it all. It took a lot of hard work, determination, self-belief as well as access to resources, and supportive people around me to be able to achieve my goals.

As a polio survivor, I’m committed to advocating for the eradication of polio. I write op-eds for newspapers, highlighting the importance of vaccines. I have spoken at conferences for Rotary and the WHO. My story has been shared in various news outlets to raise awareness. I participated in a national immunization drive in India in 2015 to vaccinate children. And I’ve also visited my legislators on Capitol Hill to ask them to continue supporting funding global immunization programs.

The mission to eradicate polio is, in some ways, like completing a triathlon. It takes a tremendous amount of planning and preparation, a relentless team, persistence, and the ability to overcome unexpected challenges.

Cover of The Girl Who Figured It Out. Illustration of Minda crossing the finish line in her wheelchair.

Children are important when we talk about polio too. They are the ones who could be affected if they don’t get vaccinated. My book, The Girl Who Figured It Out is all about my journey from being an infant with polio in India to becoming an Ironman World Champion. In the book, I talk about the impact of polio on my life. We’ve made considerable progress in ending polio, but we must continue the effort. That’s why I shared the website endpolio.org in my book. I hope that by reading my book, kids and families will understand the importance of vaccination.

I hope we can move towards a world where no child suffers from a preventable disease like polio again.

We are so close to ending polio, with just two endemic countries left. We need support from donors, global organizations, national governments, and community leaders. We need mass immunization campaigns to ensure every child is vaccinated for polio. We need effective surveillance systems, and to continue to support female health workers who are on the front lines helping to vaccinate hard to-reach-populations and address vaccine hesitancy. All these efforts will help us get to a world without polio in our lifetime.

Follow Minda on X, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Minda assisting with preventative care for children in India.

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