Since his mother, Kathleen Matthews, was diagnosed with and subsequently passed away from lung cancer in 2011, John Matthews, a long-time executive at enterprise software giant SAP, has been on a mission: to end the stigma, provide personalized medicine, and increase access to screening for early detection of the disease few want to acknowledge but from which too many have suffered. When I listed the people in my life who have passed away from lung cancer, all but one of whom were women, Matthews responded without surprise. "Lung cancer kills more women in the United State than any other cancer," says Matthews.
Matthews, together with family and friends, formed Kathleen's Krew five years ago. Over the last six years, the team has raised over $80,000 for the Bonnie J Addario Lung Cancer Foundation where 90% of donations are used to support lung cancer patients or fund research for a cure. "I found my life's calling in this work. I am proud of the work we have done so far. It's only the beginning," says Matthews. Matthews jumped into the deep end with both feet by deciding to raise awareness and $1 million dollars by cycling across the USA, from Pennsylvania to California starting in late August and finishing in early October.
Like most people, Matthews leads a busy life that includes his wife, Beth Solomon, also a software executive at SAP, a son in college and a demanding work schedule. Given that time is the number one challenge when embarking on a big commitment like this, he knew the best path to accelerating his readiness to hop in the saddle every day for 50 days and 3,400 miles would take a lot of focus, grit, and help from others. Prioritizing five key focus areas has been instrumental in accelerating Matthews' journey from occasional weekend cyclist to an ultra-endurance cyclist.
Get the lay of the land from people who know. There's more to long-distance cycling than just hopping on a bike and pedaling. "I'm not a biker," says Matthews. With just six months to get ready and no time or interest in becoming an expert on all things cross-country cycling, Matthews and Solomon found experts who could help. Getting the right equipment was key in setting a strong foundation.
As an avid cyclist for over 30 years, Bob Burke from Guy's Bicycles in Philadelphia could envision Matthews' journey and suggest the right equipment to sustain daily use over long distances, extreme road conditions, and varying weather patterns. In addition to bike material and ensuring the right frame geometry for comfort, safety is the biggest concern. "Newer technology in gearing and braking systems have come a long way in just the past 5 years. Lighter, stronger, less maintenance has been the focus of many manufacturers. The equipment that I set John up with is designed for Johns trip in every way. He can focus on the physical aspect of his ride, and worry less about mechanical problems with the bicycle," says Burke.
Make every second count with the help of data. Matthews turned to Nick Rogers of Breakaway Bikes to create a training program that would get him from coast to coast. With a good baseline fitness level, Rogers could focus on preparing Matthews for the challenge ahead: building endurance to get back in the saddle day after day and to build strength to take on extreme conditions including cycling through the Rockies. The secret sauce to customizing just the right training program is data.
"In cycling, the primary data point fitness trainers use is power because is it the most consistent metric to measure fitness and to prescribe personalized workouts," says Rogers. Power is impacted by many factors within the athlete, for example, time of day, the amount of sleep, and stress. External factors such as terrain, wind, and weather also influence performance. Rogers uses an online tool called TrainingPeaks to monitor Matthews' progress and tweaks his training to accommodate challenges and build endurance.
Fuel your body and your soul. What you eat matters. "Food really is fuel, and without enough fuel, John's training alone would not be able to carry his body toward his end goal," says Abigail Duffine, a nutritionist from Drexel University's Parkway Health & Wellness. The first step was to learn about Matthews' current diet. Building on the current state assessment, Duffine focused on caloric intake. "It did not matter what was going into the system, if there were not enough total calories being eaten, his training would not be fueled appropriately," says Duffine.
The diet Duffine prescribed was based on a well-rounded food plan that will support his training and get him through the 50 days of distance cycling. The nutrition plan focused on two components: complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. Complex carbohydrates included whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables. and dairy. The list of lean protein is comprised of chicken, turkey, eggs, meat, nut butter, fish, and beans. An important priority for the nutrition component, as it is in the fitness plan, is the need to train and practice. "All of the practice is for the real thing. I encouraged John to not try anything new during his actual ride across the country," says Duffine.
Prioritize health and safety. Matthews 'shows up and does the plan'. Thus, he sees the progress in his endurance. But that's only part of the story. Getting across the country without risking his safety or compromising his health is incredibly important. In every element of his training, from the equipment to the fitness regime, and nutrition plan, every coach has been deliberate in thinking about health and safety. "It's not just about the ride; it's about getting me across the country and being able to resume my life, in one piece, when the ride is over," says Matthews.
Build a community. No one gets to a finish line alone. Matthews is a master community builder, something that has served him well professionally and has been one of the most important pieces to raising money since Kathleen's Krew was formed. "My mother always used to say that many hands make light work," says Matthews. It truly takes a village to get Matthews ready. Matthews has assembled thirty-two people from different parts of his life. Each person has a specific role that plays to his or her strengths.
The common bond among each person involved is their dedication to Matthews' journey. "I feel lucky to be a small part of John's incredibly inspiring journey this summer, says Rogers. That sentiment was echoed by everyone interviewed for this piece. The community Matthews has built provides the most important ingredients that technology cannot: heart and soul.
Want to get involved in ridding the world of lung cancer? Follow John Matthews on his training and cross-country journey by signing up for his blog Ride Hard. Breathe Easy where you will hear from him and members of his support team. And, put your money where your heart is and donate. Every dollar helps. Many hands make light work indeed.