After losing his mother to lung cancer in 2011, SAP executive John Matthews was tired of hearing the terrible statistics for this deadly disease and vowed to make a difference. He promised his mom that in his lifetime, he would raise $1 million to fight lung cancer.
How would he do it? Well, he wasn’t sure. But a bike ride in June of 2016 turned out to be the start of a new journey. That June, John completed his first bike race to support cancer research – 70 miles in one day – and the idea of creating a cycling campaign to raise money for lung cancer was born.
“I didn’t have a real bike, equipment or shoes,” John said. “My wife told me I was nuts.”
But if he could ride 70 miles in one day, why not try 3,500 miles over 50 days?
In October of 2017, he did just that. With help from family, friends, and SAP colleagues, John completed a 3,553-mile bike ride, cycling from SAP’s U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa., to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Ride Hard Breathe Easy (RHBE) was officially a fundraising campaign.
After the success in 2017, John decided to continue the race the following year, recently finishing another major cycling trek in 2018 that looped through the East Coast with stops through Boston, New York, Columbus, and many other cities, finishing in Washington, D.C. this September.
With these bike rides, he raised over $130,000 plus another $100,000 from outside donations and additional events. Totaling over $230,000, it was certainly an impressive amount of fundraising. But to achieve that 1 million dollar goal, he would need to reach even more people. Because November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, John decided to take his cycling campaign global this fall.
Many Hands Make Light Work
John’s mother had a saying, “Many hands make light work,” and in this spirit, John is asking that we all join together to fight lung cancer. Beginning on November 1, anyone in the world can help chase down a cure for lung cancer, whether you hop on a bike and hit the trails, take a spin class, or just make an online donation and share your support — there are plenty of ways to help.
“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,” John said.
To make this global effort happen, Ride Hard Breathe Easy is using Strava, an app used by cyclists and runners to track mileage. To have your miles count, setup a profile on Strava, join the RHBE group on the app, start your ride, and the miles will be recorded. It’s that simple.
The goal for November is to have enough volunteers cycling 25,000 miles, enough miles to circle the planet and raise awareness for lung cancer around the world.
“Even if it’s just to help raise awareness, anything means so much,” John said. “The one thing I’ve learned through this is that people want to help people.”
A Little Rain Won’t Stop Us
Along the way, John has had tremendous support from family, friends, and even SAP colleagues. In fact, one SAP colleague flew from California to Philadelphia to ride in the 2018 race.
“So, why did I fly from California to the East Coast to ride my bike for nearly 600 miles? The simple answer is John asked,” said Andy Hancock, North America regional lead for Innovation and Industry 4.0 at SAP. “There are so many amazing people in SAP that when you spend time with them, like John, and they show you the passion and dedication for life — both in work and outside — it’s very difficult to not become involved. John takes on a lot to make his challenges successful and I wanted to be there to take some of that strain from him when it was needed.”
Taking some of the strain from John even meant riding for miles in the cold, windy rain. “Last year, we had six hours of light rain over 52 days,” John said. “This year, we had two straight days of nothing but rain. I think Mom was making sure the challenge was still there.”
“John asked me on the first day: ‘Are you alright to ride in the rain?’ I told him, ‘I didn’t fly all this way not to ride my bike,’” Andy said.
“Rain doesn’t stop lung cancer patients from getting their treatments and it sure wasn’t going to stop us,” John added.
“These challenges can be very lonely and a struggle mentally,” Andy said. “That struggle manifests itself when you are wet, cold, and sore but you have to get out of that warm van to take over the ride in the middle of nowhere. Knowing you have another 50 miles to ride alone in the rain and wind, but you do it anyway so to not let yourself and others down.”
Social Responsibility + Innovation
With the unpredictable force of Mother Nature on the roads, the cycling campaign is lucky to now have tracking, donated by SAP partner Telit. This allows drivers to see exactly where everyone is located throughout the entire course.
“The device enhanced the safety this year since the driver always knew where the riders were,” John said. “And with the rain and flooding this year, it was a lifesaver.”
Combining enterprise analytics with SAP Leonardo and the external IoT solution from Telit resulted in a website that provides real-time course position, funds raised to date, a Twitter timeline, and many other statistics. Now, you can follow along with John as he completes his course each year.
Throughout his fundraising efforts, John has seen that the spirit of giving is alive and well. “When I rode last year, people would bump into you because you’re wearing these funny cycling shirts,” John said. “Dozens of people have just pulled out cash or made a donation on the spot.”
And many of the people he meets along the way have also lost someone special to lung cancer. One day, after completing 50 miles and returning the Support and Gear (SAG) vehicle for the day, he hopped into an Uber car only to find out the driver had also lost her Mom to lung cancer.
Encountering so many people whose lives had been affected by this disease, this year, RHBE decided to add a new element to the campaign. “We had this idea that we dedicate each day of the ride to someone who died of lung cancer,” John said.
The Cycle of Kindness
In 2017, SAP alum Fred Stephens generously devoted three days of his time to help John’s efforts by driving the SAG vehicle. They started their journey in Columbus, Ohio, at The James Cancer Center. But in 2018, Fred called John and said he sadly wasn’t able to help with the race this year; his wife Linda had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good.
But through their fundraising efforts, Fred and John spoke with their contacts at The James Cancer Center – one of the best lung cancer centers in the world – and they insisted on treating Linda, at the very same place where John and Fred had begun their three-day adventure the year prior.
“If I’ve done nothing else but give Linda a chance to live longer by doing this bike ride, I’m honored,” John said.