By John Chambless

Staff Writer

With the race still four months away, John Tonetti of Kennett Square is already leading the pack by fundraising almost $20,000 for the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

The bike race, which benefits Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, will be held Oct. 11 and 12 and will cover 150 miles. The event is one of many races Tonetti has been part of, but this one has a special meaning. He's riding in honor of his sister-in-law, who died of uterine cancer.

"That's the motivating factor behind this," Tonetti said during a recent phone interview. "I felt this was an opportunity to do something I enjoy that would be a challenge. It's too late to benefit my sister-in-law, but I could benefit other people in her situation."

Tonetti is a longtime cyclist who picked up the sport again a couple of years ago. "I actually did some bike racing a long time ago," he said. "I stopped for a number of years. I used to race in Phoenix, Arizona. I wasn't professional -- I was an avid enthusiast. And I'm a naturally competitive guy."

After 20 years of living in Las Vegas, Tonetti and his wife moved to Kennett Square last November. They have two grown children. He works for J.P. Morgan Chase in Wilmington, and rides his bike whenever he can.

"I'm a member of the West Chester Cycling Club, and on most Saturdays I ride with one of their groups," he said. "I've done a couple of events. There are a lot in the area. It becomes a matter of how far I want to drive to ride a bike, and how early I want to get up," he added, laughing.

To take on the 150 miles of the Ride to Conquer Cancer, Tonetti said he's been building up his endurance. "My resilience is a little less than it used to be," he said. "I'm gradually building it back up. I'm up to about 100 miles on weekends. I try to get in a ride or two during the week, just to keep going."

Tonetti said he enjoys riding in Chester County and discovering scenic places along the way. "This is a great place for cycling," he said. "Lots of back roads. There's no such thing as a flat ride, but I love riding along the Brandywine Valley area. I go out into the Centreville/Greenville area, and the Chadds Ford and West Chester areas. One of the nice things I've found is that motorists are very respectful of cyclists here."

The two-day race involves hundreds of organizers and support personnel who will accompany the riders throughout the Philadelphia countryside. Meals, water and snack stops, gear transportation, medical services and an overnight campsite are all provided. 

"There's lots of support from the organizers," Tonetti said. "They're setting up a campground, although I will likely not do that. I'll be 'camping' at a hotel. But I'll probably hang out at the campground for a while -- that's where all the fun people are, right?"

Tonetti said his fundraising success surprised him. "I have been really amazed at the support I've gotten," he said. "I know some very generous people. One thing is that, a lot of times, in addition to sending money, they'll send a note saying they're glad I'm doing this. They talk about a child they lost, or a parent they lost to cancer -- things I didn't even know about them. 

"Unfortunately, this disease touches pretty much everyone in different ways. It's not hard to ask for people to support you. And there's probably some number of my friends who just want to see me suffer for two days," Tonetti added, laughing.

For more information about registering for the Ride to Conquer Cancer to benefit Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, call 844-777-7433 or visit www.ridetovictory.org.