Breathing easy

Summerdale native Jack Matthews is biking across the country in 52 days to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer.

Cycle of strength: Jack Matthews created the campaign Ride Hard, Breathe Easy to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer, which claimed his mother, Kathleen, in 2011. He is now riding his bicycle across the country, sometimes traveling more than 100 miles a day. PHOTO: JACK MATTHEWS

Jack Matthews vividly remembers the elation of crossing his thousand-mile mark. The Summerdale native was somewhere between Indianapolis and St. Louis, and his wife was there waiting for him with a sign.

It was a major accomplishment, but he still had the rest of the country to go.

In a couple of days, Matthews will cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on his bike. He will have traversed the country in just 52 days, sometimes traveling more than 100 miles a day.

Why do it? For his mother.

Matthews created the campaign Ride Hard, Breathe Easy to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer, which claimed his mother, Kathleen, in 2011. She left behind six children and 19 grandchildren, who have collectively raised more than $80,000 for the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.

“When she was very sick, I promised her I would do something,” the 55-year-old current Cheltenham resident said. “I didn’t know what it would be at the time, but it would be in honor of her and her memory.”

He didn’t figure out what he would do until about 18 months ago, when he stated he wanted to raise a million dollars for lung cancer research during his lifetime while on a panel discussing the disease. Then he got the idea to bike across the country.

“I figured, if I can do 75 miles, I can do 3,500,” he said.

His mission is an ambitious one. On Aug. 24, Matthews departed on his journey from SAP headquarters in Newtown Square, where he works. He was seen off by 150 friends, coworkers and family members, most of whom won’t see him again until he gets home.

Since then, Matthews has traveled approximately 70 to 80 miles a day on his bike, pushing himself to achieve his goal each day. The exercise is vigorous — he had biked before, but spent six months training indoors and outdoors to be able to accomplish this feat. When the ride is finished, he will have completed 3,531 miles.

Matthews has documented his travels on his blog, RideHardBreatheEasy.com, as well as his Twitter handle (@Ride4Lungs). His chronicles have attracted hundreds of followers. His goal is to raise $100,000 to go toward lung cancer research and awareness.

Journey with a purpose: Jack Matthews has traveled approximately 70 to 80 miles a day on his bike. Each day of the ride is dedicated to a different person who was impacted by lung cancer. Above, Matthews departed on his journey from SAP headquarters in Newtown Square on Aug. 14. PHOTO: JACK MATTHEWS

A vehicle driven by various friends and family has followed him across the country, ready to provide food and shelter as needed. Supporters have split up into 13 groups to accompany him for various legs of the journey, some choosing to bike alongside him.

Matthews said his family is a close one. Each year, they assemble a team of about 75 people to participate in the Your Next Step is the Cure 5k. Matthews had to miss out this year (it happened Oct. 8), but the 5k added a biking option in support of him and his mission.

The event is hosted by the Bonnie J. Addario Cancer Foundation, which Matthews cited as a huge inspiration. Addario herself is a lung cancer survivor who was given a 2-percent chance of surviving. She promised she would dedicate the rest of her life to fighting lung cancer if she survived.

She’s kept true to that promise. She created the foundation, which pledged to increase the survival rate of people diagnosed with lung cancer. According to its website, the survival rate is 15.5 percent of the 1.6 million people diagnosed annually. Since its founding in 2006, the organization has raised more than $30 million for lung cancer research.

Lung cancer has no face. The disease affects anyone regardless of age, background, and even if they smoke or not (80 percent of those diagnosed are non-smokers). Matthews mentioned the story of Jill Costello, a physically fit 21-year-old athlete who led the crew team at the University of California, Berkeley. Costello became an activist of the disease before it took her life when she was 22 years old.

It’s been a beautiful journey for Matthews, both physically and mentally. He cited landscapes of Colorado and Utah as some of the most beautiful sights he’s ever viewed.

The ride has also taught him a lot about the people in the country.

“It’s easy to say we’re divided in the media and in politics, but everyone I’ve met has been impacted by cancer, and a lot have been impacted by lung cancer,” he said. “No one cares where you lean in a political perspective, they just care about people.”

Each day of the ride is dedicated to a different person who was impacted by lung cancer. Sept. 28 was special — it was dedicated to Matthews’ father, Bob.

That day was the day he went farthest, traversing 105 miles.

“Some days are harder than others,” Matthews said. He was climbing the Rocky Mountain chain and pushed himself to go farther than any other day. He had trained in Conshohocken, but nothing could prepare a person for the real mountains.

“It was the longest ride, as he always showed us that hard work really matters,” he said.

His father passed away from a heart attack last year.

“Today, I listened to Bob Marley to start (same first name) and then six hours of Dad’s favorite Irish music,” Matthews wrote on his blog. “I cried more than a few times, especially when The Town I Loved So Well and The Old Man made it on the playlist.”

The ride will conclude Oct. 14, when family and friends will be waiting at the end of the bridge for him.

“I’m going to cross the bridge and throw my bike in the water,” he said jokingly.

The last day of the ride will be dedicated to his mother, just as the first one was. His son, John, will finish the race with him. Matthews said his parents instilled the importance of family in him and his siblings.

“I can’t wait to be hugging my wife and son,” he said.

A detailed map of his journey can be viewed here. SAP, a software manufacturer for businesses, created a web app to track extensive stats, such as he travels at an average speed of 14.3 miles per hour. Matthews credited his workplace for supporting his mission.

“I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve gotten, and so inspired by this wonderful country we live in,” he said. “The people and the landscape is something I’ve never seen before.”

For Matthews, his family is with him with every pedal. ••

To donate to the Ride Hard, Breathe Easy campaign, visit ridehardbreatheeasy.yournextstepisthecure.org. To follow the journey on Facebook, visit facebook.com/RideHardBreatheEZ