Former professional cyclist Steven Cozza has spent much of his life standing up for other people.
When he was a kid growing up in Petaluma, he protested discrimination against gays by the Boy Scouts of America. As a high-profile cyclist, he raised money for disabled kids, among others.
And now, as he launches a new career as a real estate agent, Cozza is behind a one-man food drive to supply the Mary Isaak Center.
He's also organizing a May 11 cycling event — the Petaluma Kids Gran Fondo — to raise money for public schools.
"Muhammad Ali says helping others is the rent we pay to be on this earth," said Cozza, a huge fan of the heavyweight champion. "I really take that to heart."
The 2003 Petaluma High School graduate was a charitable force during his decade-long cycling career, which ended last spring when he was sidelined with colitis.
As a member of the top-ranked Garmin team, Cozza competed in the Paris-Roubaix three years running. At the same time, he organized Steven Cozza's Race For Kids, a fundraiser for at-risk children.
Now back in his hometown, Cozza has earned a real estate license and has signed on with Frank Howard Allen.
With a teacher mother and social worker father, it's no surprise that Cozza is driven to help people. In years past, he's been recognized by co-workers and elected officials alike.
Former Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat, once told him he should run for president. He was about 11 years old then, he said.
Cozza said he has no such aspirations. At the moment, he's happy to sell homes, which he said is a lot like cycling.
"Both require self motivation and have their ups and downs," he said.
He had a brainstorm while thinking of ways to market himself. Fliers advertising his services also encourage people to donate food. People leave the food on their doorsteps and he returns to pick it up.
It's worked pretty well so far. He's collected six truckloads from about 1,000 homes and plans to keep going until he's covered the entire city.
A major exercise nut, Cozza walks or jogs from house to house and occasionally brings his dog.
"It's human nature to want to help others," said Cozza, 27. "I've just kind of incorporated it into my business."
It's also helped his business, but he said that's not the main goal.
Meanwhile, he's moving forward with the Kids Gran Fondo, which will benefit 25 schools.
He expects pledges from 2,500 kids who will ride one, four or 13-mile routes. The money will go back to their schools and one individual from each group who is struggling with a disability or ailment.
Fellow real estate agent Kathryn Santos Amos said Cozza will make it a success.
"He has a lot of commitment and drive," she said. "He and I partnered on his first listing. He's always working for the common good."
(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)