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Pushing hard for the Giro Bello Classic

Published: Friday, February 4, 2011 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 4, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.

Go back to the mountain, Mt. Everest, back in 2004, and read how Steven Cozza reacted when he knew he was freezing to death. Read what he told his father, Scott, and it'll become quite apparent why he is pushing his Giro Bello Classic in June so hard.

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Steven Cozza

Life, after all, can be that summer wind. It can disappear so quickly.

In 2004 Cozza was 20 and hiked with his father to Everest's base camp, the Petaluma pair raising funds for Robert Knight, 16, a freshman at Petaluma High School battling cancer.

The Cozzas had made base camp at 18,500 feet. They dallied a bit, Scott said, actually dallied too much. They started their descent, just the two of them. They got lost. Their flashlights ran out of battery life. A snowstorm was blowing. The temperature was around 20 below. Scott crawled under a rock but not for long.

“Dad, I am freezing to death,” Steven said. “If I'm going to die. I'd rather die trying to get out of here then die under a rock.” Steven, the well-decorated Eagle scout, then started to cry.

“He wasn't crying because he was scared,” Scott said. “Steven was crying because he thought he had led me to my death.”

For six hours the pair struggled in the dark before finding a trail. Scott Cozza of course was glad for that but the memory that sticks with him above all others is his son's response to being lost.

“Steven was crying for me,” Scott said.

Later, Steven cried for Robert Knight. Robert had died while the Cozzas were descending.

“Robert fought to the very end,” Steven said. “Robert taught me how fragile life is.”

Not that getting lost on Mt. Everest wouldn't remind him. But the Cozzas made it; Robert didn't. Nonetheless, it was a tipping point, Steven admitted. It had fired up his instinct to be a giver, not a taker. He first realized it at 8 as a dyslexic.

As he was learning how to read, Steven helped the others, even defending them if necessary from the classroom bullies. At 11 Cozza was appalled at the Boy Scouts' ban on homosexual troop leaders and spent the next seven years, when his schoolwork permitted, giving speeches at colleges across the country. He received awards, was the subject of a documentary film but couldn't have cared less about that.

“I think it is our duty to help other human beings,” said Cozza, 25, a world-class cyclist speaking from Gerona, Spain.

Last November, Cozza received a call from a good friend, Gene Berman, who is suffering from myeloma, a cancer. Would he be interested in attaching his name to a Sonoma County fund-raising cycling event? Cozza always had thought of doing such a thing but living a life on a bicycle doesn't allow a lot of free time for charity.

The idea quickly gained traction. The Rotary Club of Santa Rosa has a polio eradication program. Soon both causes were married. The event? It would be in the style of a Levi Leipheimer GranFondo. Four rides were selected — 29.2 miles, 68.2 miles, 102.2 miles and a 202.2-miler. All rides will begin and end on June 25 at Analy High School.

Showers and changing rooms will be available at the finish. Well-stocked and frequent rest stops will dot each route.

Net proceeds from Steven Cozza's Giro Bello Classic — www.girobello.com — will be split evenly between the Santa Rosa Rotary Club and the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research. On-line registration for the event began Jan. 24.

“I just wish I was more popular, more successful,” said Cozza, a 2003 Petaluma graduate, “not for my benefit but for all the people it could help.” Cozza is making his climb. This year he will be racing for Team NetApp, which will compete in the Tour of California. Until now Cozza has been a domestique as a pro, the role of protecting a team leader. Now Cozza will be riding as a leader to be protected. It marks a tipping point in his career. Not that he's going to wait.

Cozza and his father are producing a children's coloring book, all the proceeds going to children's charities. Cozza probably would sell his hair clippings if someone would buy them. Actually I'm not sure about that, although I think so.

“Muhammad Ali is my role model,” Cozza said. “He's really inspired me, how he's done so much for others.”

Steven Cozza sounds like he came out of the '60s. He's not heavy, so the song goes, he's my brother. That's so back-in-the-day, Steven. So old school. And Steven Cozza would respond, without blushing: Thank you for the compliment.

For more North Bay sports, go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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