Coaches Cruisin' for a Cause

Nikki Caldwell returned to her home state this weekend to join her coaching colleague and best friend for a motorcycle ride to Florida and back to combat breast cancer. Caldwell and Holly Warlick kicked off the "TaTa Tour" with a backcountry ride in Tennessee that drew dozens of bikers Saturday.

The back parking lot of Wild Wings Café in West Knox County was filled with motorcycle riders who gathered at the popular restaurant after a two-hour jaunt in Knoxville and Loudon and Blount counties.

Warlick and Caldwell leave Sunday morning for a weeklong ride to the Florida Keys and back to Tennessee with stops planned in Miami, Naples and Tampa to hold rallies and raise awareness about breast cancer.

The "TaTa Tour" got a trial run Saturday when about 60 motorcycles plus police escorts cruised through the countryside and made a stop at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville.

"It was cool," Warlick said. "We would go down a hill and we would look behind, and the line of bikes was cool."

Warlick was reunited with Caldwell, who left last month after being hired as the head women's basketball at UCLA. The good friends enjoyed each other company Saturday and often finished each other's sentences during a media interview.

"We went to Lenoir City and Maryville and went to the Smoky Mountain dealership," Caldwell said.

"We came back on Pellissippi," Warlick said.

The official "TaTa Tour" T-shirts are available at Orange Mountain Designs. Information about the ride, merchandise and contributions for the cause are available at Cruisin' for a Cause.

The coaches also will write daily blogs during the trip and post photographs of the events on the Cruisin' for a Cause site. On the last ride – the coaches rode from California to Knoxville last fall and raised more than $50,000 – Caldwell always looked like she just stepped out of a salon instead of off a bike. The other riders looked like the elements – wind, rain and sun – had taken a toll.

"She's got great skin," Warlick said. "How old are you?"

"I'll be 36 on what day?" Caldwell asked.

"May 21," Warlick said. "I'll be 50 next month."

When Caldwell was asked if she will miss being with Warlick on the sidelines and was happy to see her friend again, Caldwell rolled her eyes in mock nonchalance, and Warlick answered, "She loves me."

"We're going to get to spend some time together. We've got eight days together. We've got eight long days together. Eight long days," Caldwell said drawing out the word ‘long' over and over.

The two were in the mood to tease Saturday, but the cause is a serious one for them.

"The more we are around people who are survivors that is what does it for me," Warlick said. "They come up and say thank you. That keeps me coming back. That means we're doing something right. We enjoy it, and we know it's a great cause, but when you hear it from people who lived it and survived …. "

"And those who are affected by it," Caldwell finished.

Both coaches were eager to get started. They will be accompanied by a support staff to assist with logistics and safety.

"I am so anxious," Warlick said. "When you get on the bike and you ride that's what gets you going."

"It's a good feeling," Caldwell said.

Warlick and Caldwell intend to hold yearly Cruisin' events to raise money and spread the message of breast health.

"We're doing it every year," Caldwell said. "We're on quarters right now. We're still in school. I told Holly we've got to look at different dates (for the next ride)."

Caldwell was referring to UCLA's academic system. Her players are still in school in California. Tennessee's semester system ended Friday with graduation.

It was a little more than a month ago that Caldwell was hugging the Tennessee coaches in Tampa as the team celebrated the Lady Vols' eighth national title. On April 17 Caldwell was announced as the new coach for the Bruins. She was backed for the job by Pat Summitt.

"It was a great whirlwind," Caldwell said. "UCLA is a special place. I am so grateful to (UCLA Athletic Director) Dan Guerrero and (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Petrina Long and their leadership and guidance. I fell in love with the campus and the people, and they're rich in tradition both academically and on the court. You're going to get the best of both worlds because you're going to get a great education. And you've got great weather."

Caldwell hasn't even had a chance to find a residence yet.

"I am living in the hotel right now," she said.

The next step is hiring her assistant coaches.

"I have a good idea on my staff," Caldwell said. "Nothing is official right now, but I've got my eye on some great assistant coaches who will come in and turn women's basketball around."

She also intends to attend some Los Angeles Sparks games. Four former Lady Vols are on the roster in Candace Parker, Shannon Bobbitt, Sidney Spencer and Tye'sha Fluker.

"I am definitely going to go check them out," Caldwell said. "I am very, very excited about being able to go and see them play."

Caldwell, who has been described by Summitt as the "total package" when it comes to head coaching ability and one of her former coaches who most reminds Summitt of herself, had been courted by schools before but opted to stay at Tennessee, where she also played and won a national championship in 1991. The Oak Ridge native had said in March that it would take a special place to pull her out of her home state.

"This is incredible," Caldwell said. "I think you look at Pat and what she's able to allow you to do and how you're able to grow as a coach, everything fell into place. It had to be something special, and it was and it is."

Former Lady Vol Niya Butts also is now in the Pac 10 and is a first-time head coach. She was hired at Arizona. Former Lady Vol Semeka Randall was announced Friday as the head coach at Ohio University.

"Those who play at Tennessee or are affiliated with the program have a great foundation to go into coaching because it teaches you the game of basketball," Caldwell said. "It doesn't just teach you Xs and Os, it teaches you about the game of basketball, which is inevitably about the game of life.

"It's a testimony to the people that we've evolved into. You're being rewarded for your hard work and being recognized as potentially a great head coach."

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