The “TaTa Tour” is part of Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell’s foundation, Champions for a Cause, which raises money for breast cancer research and to help those currently fighting the disease.
The 2010 edition of the motorcycle ride included a trip to tour the National Institutes for Health in Washington, D.C., to get updated on the latest research and diagnostic tools, and a visit to West Point in New York. Lady Vol Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who used to coach at Army, recruited a colleague to set up the tour, and the coaches got an insider’s peek at the famed military institution.
“They took us all around campus,” Warlick said.
They also paid their respects at the gravesite of Maggie Dixon, the former Army women’s basketball coach who died of an undetected heart condition in 2006 at the age of 28. Dixon was laid to rest on the grounds of the school, one of the few civilians to ever be buried at West Point Cemetery.
Warlick made one quick trip back to Knoxville during the tour for the Monday memorial service of George W. Sampson, the 82-year-old founder of Cherokee Distributing Co., who had been a second father figure for the Lady Vols associate head coach since she was young. Warlick grew up in Knoxville with Sampson’s daughter.
“I needed to be back here (for the service),” Warlick said. “I consider him a part of my family.”
Warlick rejoined the tour late that evening after flying to New York and was back on track in time for Tuesday’s appearance on “Good Morning America” with co-host Robin Roberts, a former broadcaster for women’s basketball with ESPN and a breast cancer survivor.
Warlick and Nikki Caldwell seemed a little nervous during the broadcast to millions on the popular ABC morning show, but they both said the hesitancy in their voices came from the cold temperatures.
They arrived at the New York studios at 5:30 a.m. to set up the motorcycles and hold a practice rehearsal and then bided their time in the “green room” where guests await their appearance on the show.
“I’ve been around a lot of media people and news stations, and I have never experienced that,” Warlick said. “They were as gracious and as nice to us (as big-time celebrities who appear on the show). Robin was very gracious to set that up and do that for us. That was a cool experience.”
A video of the appearance can be viewed here: Good Morning America.
“It was cold,” Caldwell said. “There was nothing nervous about going on live camera and talking about something you’re passionate about. We were cold. We were in our Cruisin’ T-shirts, no jackets, and you’ve got two Southern girls up there.”
The coaches were warm on their bikes, thanks to Warlick’s pre-departure purchase of heated gloves, which had prompted Caldwell to call her coaching counterpart “soft” before the trip.
“I am going to give Holly so much credit so that was the one smart thing she thought of the entire trip,” Caldwell said. “She’s good for one great thought a week, and that was it.”
“See! I got her some heated gloves, and we were the hit,” Warlick said. “I had to keep turning mine on and off. They hook up to your battery on your bike.”
Their hands actually would get hot, a fact they kept to themselves since other riders had regular gloves and cold fingers. The crew also faced rainy weather on all but two days of the trip but persevered.
“It was a lot colder, but we were geared up for it,” Caldwell said. “We did a lot more touring (and learning about the process from diagnosis to treatment). The touring part was unbelievable for us.”
This trip was more research-oriented with behind-the-scenes tours, whereas past ones had involved public appearances. Despite the lack of publicized events, four Lady Vol fans were waiting when the group rolled into Niagara Falls and another Lady Vol fan caught up with the crew in Ohio by estimating the arrival time at a local Pilot fueling center, one of the tour sponsors.
“You have Lady Vol fans all over the country, and that’s just a testament to (Pat) Summitt and what the Lady Vols program has meant to so many,” Caldwell said.
The coaches should expect Lady Vol fans to show up next May, even in Sturgis, S.D., the suggested starting point for TaTa Tour 2011. Sturgis is known for its annual motorcycle rally in August, which has been held since 1938. The TaTa Tour is in May because of the coaches' schedule so it won't coincide with that, but it will be in a town with tremendous support for bikers.
The next TaTa trip remains in the early stages of logistics, but the plan is to travel from South Dakota and end in Los Angeles on Caldwell’s side of the country since she is now the head coach of the UCLA women’s basketball program.
Starting in South Dakota could make this year’s route seem balmy.
“It’s going to be freezing,” Warlick said.
But the coaches’ goal is to find a way to eventually cruise through every state on the TaTa tours.
“We’re thinking we’ve got to touch every state,” Caldwell said.
“We want to go through every state, and we want an opportunity for Nikki to end in LA,” Warlick said.
The trip also would allow the coaches to tap into the large media market of Los Angeles. They also intend to call on Roberts again, this time by satellite hookup from New York to Los Angeles.
“Robin said, ‘See you next year,’ so we’re going to take her up on it,” Warlick said. “She doesn’t know it yet.”
The coaches and their entourage rolled Saturday into Wild Wing Café, which donated $1,000 to Champions for a Cause and has served as the host site for tour gatherings. Family members, friends and Lady Vol fans were on hand to greet them, and it gave Caldwell a chance to see her family again before heading west on Sunday.
“I’m going to get back to my team,” Caldwell said. “My staff has held it down for me this whole week, but they obviously understand why I do what I do, and they are very supportive of it.”