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People: John Weisskopf Rides for Good Cause

John Weisskopf and his ride. (Photo by Catherine Meyers.)

Leather jackets, riding gloves and sturdy boots are all part of the typical attire for a motorcycle enthusiast. But for SLAC technical operations manager John Weisskopf, the look is often completed with a pink, breast-cancer awareness ribbon.

Since 2003, Weisskopf has been volunteering his time and talents—since 2005, as a member of the motorcycle crew—at the annual San Francisco Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. The walk, which raises money for breast cancer research and medical outreach, takes participants on a 39-mile route through Marin County and into the heart of downtown San Francisco. Weisskopf's job is to ensure that walkers are kept safe on crowded city streets and at intersections.

Being part of the motorcycle crew was a natural choice for Weisskopf. Although relatively new to the motorcycle world (he started riding when he was 54), he quickly became an avid biker.

"I needed something new and exciting to do in my life," said Weisskopf, who admitted there might have been some element of a mid-life crisis in his decision to start riding. But even though motorcycles may invoke ideas of youthfulness and freedom, the hobby has also yielded at least one practical benefit: "I ride my motorcycle almost every day to work, except when I know it's going to rain," Weisskopf explained, noting that his 70-mile commute time is often shortened when on a motorcycle.

When not on his way to the office, Weisskopf also enjoys exploring the California coast and mountains by bike. He has travelled even further afield, to places such as South Dakota, Idaho, New Mexico and Canada. Weisskopf's current motorcycle, a beautifully maintained Victory, is just over four years old. Its sleek styling and impeccable finish belie that it has already travelled more than 115,000 miles.

"I love the feel of the open road," Weisskopf said. "It speaks to the rebel spirit. I think everybody has a bit of that mischievous personality."

A little free-wheeling he may be, but it doesn't take long talking with Weisskopf to realize that his rebel spirit is complemented with an equally strong spirit of service. Volunteering with the San Francisco Avon Walk appeals to both parts of Weisskopf's personality.

"The courage and dedication of some of the walkers is amazing," Weisskopf observed. "They'll have blisters on their feet, or twisted ankles, but they just won't quit."

At the Avon Walk, volunteers pass out pink ribbons every three minutes. Each ribbon represents a new person in the U.S. who will be diagnosed with breast cancer during the span of time it takes to complete the walk. At the end of the event, the participants gather in a closing ceremony.

"When you see all these pink ribbons, you realize how devastating the disease can be," Weisskopf said. Almost 40,000 women die of breast cancer in the U.S. each year. But, aided by the millions of dollars Avon walks raise, researchers are on a quest to save more lives. And it's a sure bet that Weisskopf will continue to support that goal. His latest ambition is to one day volunteer in all nine annual Avon breast cancer walks, held in different cities nationwide.

"I find a lot of satisfaction in my life by being of service to a good cause," Weisskopf said.

—Catherine Meyers
SLAC Today, October 28, 2010