After Losing Mom, SAP Executive Strives to Find 1 Million Ways to Fight Lung Cancer

When John Matthews lost his mother to lung cancer in 2011, the SAP global vice president and HCM LoB business partner made a vow to raise $1 million in donations in his lifetime in her memory.

It was a lofty goal for someone not used to fundraising, but Kathleen Matthews’ son was not deterred. Five years later, he’d raised nearly $80,000—a noble effort but not a pace to reach $1 million anytime soon. A bold move was needed. Matthews, not an avid bicyclist, decided to start the Ride Hard. Breathe Easy organization last year and to ride his bike across the country to gain significantly more exposure—and hopefully money—for lung cancer research.

His efforts paid off. With the help of some dedicated family, friends and colleagues, Matthews completed a 3,553-mile journey last October after cycling from SAP’s Newtown Square headquarters to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He even got the attention of SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who tweeted his encouragement on day one, and along the way he received some television and news coverage and raised almost $100,000. A fantastic accomplishment, but there’s still a long way to go, he said.

“We had 100 people help plan the ride, build the SAP site and drive or ride with us. We had the full support of management and I was able to take seven weeks off for it,” Matthews said. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made but I know there’s so much more we can do, that we can get to.”

New Year, More Motivation

This year, buoyed by his 2017 success, his plans are even more ambitious. On August 23, Matthews kicks off another major cycling trek that loops the East Coast with stops through Boston, New York, Columbus and many other cities before finishing in Washington, D.C.

Matthews will kick off the event in Philadelphia, but this time he’s relying on scores of volunteers in between to raise as much money as possible for the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation and Lung Cancer Alliance before finishing in Washington for the finale.

Click to view the full route on Google Maps.

“I’m confident we’ll be even more successful this year. It’s a shorter ride but it’s closer to more SAP people. We have people ready to lead every segment. We’re still going to use SAP technology and IoT solutions to track our progress” Matthews said.

In addition, Ride Hard, Breathe Easy has developed a global campaign that will track and aggregate cycling mileage in November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month, from anyone willing to join a special group through Strava, a popular app for runners and cyclists. The goal is to get enough volunteers to bike 25,000 miles, enough to virtually circle the planet.

“If you can’t make the August ride, anyone can ride in November. Even if you just ride for 10 miles, you’ll contribute. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for anyone to participate,” Matthews said.

Fighting Lung Cancer, One Mile at a Time

After his mother’s death, Matthews found the more he learned about lung cancer, the more that needed to be done. About 32 percent of cancer deaths are lung cancer, but only 10 percent of the funding goes there, Matthews said. “It’s the number one cancer killer and it impacts every ethnic group, every state. It’s still a great unknown.”

As a 24-year veteran of SAP, Matthews had a lot of people internally help with the cause. The SAP Analytics teams also provided technology solutions to help Matthews track his progress online.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit the Ride Hard Breathe Easy website or contact

“Even if it’s just to help raise awareness, anything means so much,” Matthews said. “The one thing I’ve learned through this, is that people want to help people. Giving back is part the culture at SAP and it’s why I know we’ll continue to be successful.”

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