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El Tour a chance to remember 'Mama Bear,' raise money for cancer research
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El Tour a chance to remember 'Mama Bear,' raise money for cancer research

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Amanda Carter, left, rode in Saturday’s El Tour de Tucson in memory of her mother Danell, right. Danell Carter died five years ago of ovarian cancer.

Saturday marked the 38th annual El Tour de Tucson and the return of the event after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to be canceled last year.

The race had a different meaning for Amanda Carter. She rode Saturday in honor of her mother, Danell, who died five years ago of ovarian cancer. She was 56.

Carter rode Saturday with a team of 27 other cyclists, including her friend and co-captain Leah Mein.

“Team Mama Bear” was a fitting name.

Danell Carter “was a second mom to me,” said Mein, who has been friends with Amanda Carter since high school. “I was raised by a single father. Amanda and I went to high school together and Danell was kind of like the school mom. She was everybody’s mom and the holidays would come around and people’s birthday’s and she just brought the community together. She brought friends together and families. They were really big on gatherings, so we just spend a lot of time together.”

Mein is an avid cyclist, having taken up the sport after first starting with distance running.

“Amanda had actually inspired me to start getting into 5K and 10K races, and so I started taking up running initially,” Mein said. “I did my first 10K without Amanda, then I did my first half-marathon and then I did my first full marathon. Once I kind of dominated running, I got into cycling.”

Mein thought Amanda Carter would benefit from cycling, too.

“When her mom passed away, she had more time and I wanted to keep her mind busy,” she said, “So I got her to come out and do a ride with me.”

Mein did her first El Tour alone. Carter joined her a year later, and instantly fell in love with the sport — and the event. The largest participatory sporting event in Southern Arizona, El Tour is unique in the world of cycling. The late-November race draws riders from near and far, lured by the warm weather and scenic views.

The 38th annual El Tour de Tucson had nearly 6,500 participants, with two international cyclists winning top spots.

Mexico's Gerardo Ulloa was the first to cross the finish line following Saturday's 102-mile bicycle race and Cuba's Marlies Mejías had the fastest time among female cyclists. Video by Jesse Tellez/Arizona Daily Star.

Cheryl Montana, Patty Whitchurch and Charlotte Dobson rode Saturday’s 57-miler in honor of Danell Carter. They call themselves “The Three Musketeers” because they never leave each other’s side.

“We separate Tucson in quarters, so every Sunday we ride a different quarter,” Whitchurch said. “Then we just keep adding miles. We got up to 27 miles last month, then I ended up getting COVID last month, so I didn’t ride for a month. We decided instead of doing the 100 (miles) this year — we’re gonna still do it — but do the 57 (miles).”

Whitchurch added: “We always ride as fast as the slowest rider. Sometimes we are riding and having a bad day and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m going to ride first, you guys keep my pace.’ It doesn’t matter how slow we are, we stick together.”

They all said that the best part of this day was the friendship and raising money for a good cause. “Team Mama Bear” raised more than $21,000 for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition ahead of Saturday’s event. Amanda Carter said she was both and thankful for the support.

“What absolutely just blew my mind was the local support through the businesses here in Tucson,” she said. “I always knew friends and family would want to come alongside me and support (me), but the outpour of support that we got through sponsorship is really what amazed us.”

Mein got emotional when asked what her message was to those who donated and helped spread the word about the fundraiser.

“I think my message would just be thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Mein said. “Thank you for coming alongside the Carter family and allowing us the opportunity to bring awareness and raise funds for such a deserving cause.”

Star freelancer PJ Brown contributed to this story.

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