Leila Warfield stumbled upon her volunteer job for the simplest of reasons: it was the summer, and she was bored.
After retiring, she signed her husband up, too, helping with tasks, from relevant to menial, at El Tour de Tucson’s offices.
“Just about anything, we do,” her husband, Totten, said. “They call us directors, and that makes us feel good.”
How long has El Tour been in Tucson? The calendar says 29 years — the 30th anniversary ride takes place Nov. 17.
Culturally, though, it’s hard to imagine life in Tucson without it.
Consider: the Warfields have been volunteering there for 27 years ago.
Or, since I was 5.
“It feels like they’ve been with us forever,” founder Richard DeBernardis said.
Leila will turn 87 on Nov. 9. Her husband is 88.
They volunteer at El Tour four days a week — Tuesdays through Fridays — all year long. (Mondays, they volunteer at the Arizona Cancer Center.)
I met the couple Wednesday when El Tour introduced cycling advocate Andy Clarke as the honoree for the anniversary ride.
Clarke, the president of the League of American Cyclists, called the ride unique in the country, in the sense that it seems to be the hub (Get it? Oh, you clever columnist) of Tucson’s cycling culture.
That’s taken Tucson far. Clarke’s group, which represents 57 million cyclists through promotion and advocacy, has given the Tucson region a “gold award” for our ability to promote a bicycle-friendly environment. Three cities — Davis, Calif., Boulder, Colo., and Portland, Ore., have “platinum” status.
DeBernardis, miffed Tucson wasn’t on that list, poked fun at Clarke about it.
(“Many a true word spoken in jest,” Clarke said later, after explaining that Tucson simply needed more cyclists to climb the list.)
DeBernardis’ next goal: to ensure the race continues.
On Oct. 1, he will formally begin the search for a new title sponsor to replace University of Arizona Medical Center.
The title sponsor, DeBernardis said, provides a quarter of a million dollars annually to the ride, which costs $1.8 million to put on.
“Every year, I wonder, ‘What happens if I don’t get a title sponsor next time?” he said. “That’s a big chunk of the budget.”
The ride, whose formal name is (deeeeeep breath) the University of Arizona Medical Center 30th anniversary El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino Del Sol Resort, has at least one candidate.
The resort has right of first refusal, DeBernardis said, to become the title sponsor next year.
Whoever gets the contract will have a tough act to follow.
In its 30th year, El Tour wants to top the all-time record of 9,122 participants, set at the 25th anniversary.
“All I want,” DeBernardis said, “is one more (rider) than that.”
He’s still amazed it’s been 30 years already. He said he “fell in love” with not only the cycling, but with putting on the ride itself.
“It turned into my life’s work,” he said. “I could write a book on this.”
If he does, he might want to quote the Warfields.
“They make us feel so good,” Leila said.