This September, dozens of women on motorcycles will descend on Deal’s Gap, North Carolina. The mountain pass is world-famous for its 318 turns in 11 miles — making it a perfect location for the 12th Annual Women’s Sportbike Rally. The rally is an event for female sportbike riders to come together and celebrate their love of the sport, but it does have an additional cause that’s personal to many involved: skin cancer education and awareness.
“Riding Motorcycles Saved My Life”
In 2003, Stephani McIntyre had already been riding sportbikes for five years, so she knew something wasn’t right when the fibers in her helmet lining became enough to irritate a mole that she had always had.
“I remembered I learned somewhere that any change in a mole means you should see a doctor, so I did,” McIntyre said.
Her dermatologist said that particular mole was not a problem. After performing a full skin exam, however, the doctor became concerned about a mole she found on McIntyre’s right shoulder blade. She performed a biopsy, and a few days later, called McIntyre to tell her the news: The mole was a melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
McIntyre hung up distraught, but suddenly recalled the website where she had read about melanoma. Sportbikegirl.com was founded by Tiffany Weirbach, a young woman known in online motorcycle communities as the “original sportbike girl.” She had been diagnosed with Stage III melanoma in 1999, and used her popular site to share her story and spread melanoma awareness. Tiffany’s battle with the disease lasted two and-a-half years, but she passed away at the age of 24.
“When I got into motorcycle riding, she was someone I looked up to even though I had never met her,” McIntyre said. “In my freak-out stage I went back to her website. We were the same age, with so many similarities. That’s when I became a bigger advocate for melanoma [awareness].”
A couple of days after she got her biopsy results, McIntyre had her melanoma surgically excised. It was fortunately at an early stage, and she hasn’t had a recurrence since. A few years later, though, McIntyre saw an opportunity to meld her love of riding with her advocacy for skin cancer awareness, and to honor Tiffany in the process.
Sportbikes & Skin Safety
When McIntyre and rally cofounder Kiri Hunter created the Women’s Sportbike Rally in 2006, they didn’t expect more than a few attendees. Motorcycle riders are a small community, and specifying the type of bike and focusing only on female riders narrowed down the target audience even further.
“That first year we got about 40 people, which was kind of a big deal for us because we only thought we’d get about ten,” McIntyre said. “Now it levels out around 80 to 100 in an average year.”
McIntyre always knew she wanted to link the rally to a charitable organization, but at the beginning, she was more focused on getting the event up and running. As the rally matured she decided to center its cause on taking care of your skin. “The idea was that riders already put a lot of thought into protecting their skin from road damage by wearing protective gear,” McIntyre explains. “Why not protect your skin from sun damage as well?”
The rally uses a hashtag, #skinsafety, on all of its social media posts, and attendees always receive educational literature about skin cancer in their gift bags. McIntyre gives a speech at each year’s event, stressing the importance of scheduling a professional skin exam.
“I always recommend making a conscious effort to get your skin checked, just as you would your breasts or anything else,” McIntyre said. “Make that one extra appointment every year to keep something from creeping up on you.”
The rally’s cause is already changing lives. McIntyre recalls a woman and her husband who had been attending the rally for years. The woman noticed a spot on her spouse’s ear that looked like a mole from the pamphlet she had received at the rally, so she talked her husband into getting it checked. It turned out he had a melanoma, and he was able to have it removed before it became dangerous.
“That in itself was a big win for us,” McIntyre said.
For the event’s first few years, the organizers donated proceeds from the rally to Tiffany’s Melanoma Foundation, the organization Weirbach’s parents founded to honor her after she passed away. To ensure that Tiffany would be remembered long-term, the rally secured her parents’ support in donating proceeds to The Skin Cancer Foundation in her memory. The Women’s Sportbike Rally has raised $8,500 for the Foundation’s educational programs.
The rally has grown since its founding in 2006, and now has two annual events: the original in North Carolina and one in California. Rally participants support a great cause, receive important health information and according to McIntyre, “meet other amazing, empowering, fantastic women.”
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