Utah woman, 90, inspires others to stay fit through cycling
Lewiston • Some people collect Olympic pins. Others go for stamps.
But Alice Telford? She collects people.
And many of them, judging from those she encountered at the 26th annual Little Red Riding Hood cycling event Friday night and Saturday, are middle-aged women.
"She's a ball of fire," said Chris Helfrich, who met Telford at her mother's funeral five years ago. Telford, now 90, was a high school classmate of Helfrich's mother.
"I saw what kind of shape she was in and I said 'I want to follow this woman!'"
And she did.
Telford encouraged Helfrich, then 60, to take up cycling, and she rode Little Red an all-women event Telford founded in 1988 on Saturday for the fourth time.
The ride is the Bonneville Cycling Club's biggest annual event, and raised about $150,000 this year for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. Women secured donations and rode distances from 27 miles to 100 miles.
"I say, 'I want to be her when I grow up,'" said Laurie Googasian.
Telford also drew Sue Benedict into the sport.
They met after Telford's knee replacement in the early 2000s, when Telford was using the hot tub at Benedict's apartment complex. Benedict was a swimmer.
"I started talking and she got into biking," Telford said.
"Now I'm doing seven centuries (100-mile rides) a year," Benedict said.
Tracy Vollrath was already a cyclist when she met Telford at a business luncheon this spring. But when Vollrath expressed dismay that she had been unable to get into Little Red because the club uses a lottery to select the 3,500 riders, Telford gave up her own spot.
Telford was in a car accident three summers ago, and is just beginning to ride again. She did the fundraising, but knew she wouldn't ride. She even offered to share her Logan motel room with Vollrath, who was too late to get her own room.
Vollrath was in tears Friday night, as she expressed her gratitude. " She takes the time to meet people."
A share of grief •Telford grew up on a farm in Kaysville, where the Utah State University Botanical Center is now, along Interstate 15. She ice-skated on the ponds in winter and rode horses year-round.
She met her husband at Utah State University, and he courted her by taking her bird hunting in the fields and marshes of Cache Valley, memories that were on her mind years later when she founded Little Red.
They married, and had a son, John. But her husband, suffering from rheumatic fever, died in 1950, when John was 4. John died in combat in Vietnam before his 21st birthday.
Telford determined then to take their memories with her, and to not let grief sour her own life.
She continued going on long horseback pack trips into the mountains of the West, and in the 1970s, she developed the old family farm into a subdivision.
Telford took up bicycling so she could easily chase down potential customers looking at the houses, and ended up loving the sport.
A member of Bonneville Cycling Club since those days, she has cycled all over the West, in British Columbia, in Siberia, France and China.
In 1987, a friend 25 years younger mentioned she was from northern Cache Valley, and Telford persuaded her to take a ride through the bucolic farmland.
"While she's telling me her problems, I'm thinking of an all-women bike ride," Telford recalled.
The next year was the first for Little Red Riding Hood.
Friday night, that friend, Sue Schalow, took the stage with Telford at the pre-ride party. They were honored for founding Little Red.
"She is really an inspiration of what you can do if you want to," said Schalow, now living in St. George.
Early riser • Telford rises each morning at 4:30 a.m., walks 10 flights of stairs in her downtown Salt Lake City apartment building, works out in the gym, and then walks 10 more flights.
That's before she goes to work at Zions Bank down the street.
Telford keeps in touch with President's Circle members for the bank.
An art lover her uncle was landscape artist LeConte Stewart Telford has been on a number of boards at the University of Utah, which will get her body for science when she dies.
No longer able to drive because of nerve damage in the 2011 car accident, Telford relies on friends to take her places. "I miss my independence," she said.
She's especially proud that the Bonneville Cycling Club turned Little Red into a fundraiser in 1999, and gives the proceeds for research in diseases that afflict women, ovarian and breast cancer.
About half of the riders each year, she estimates, are cancer survivors.
On Saturday, members of Cycling Sistas, a Boise-based club for cancer survivors, stopped to embrace Telford shortly after the ride began.
"May God bless me that I can live as long as you!" said Teresa Stepanek, who is from Salt Lake City, but rides with her sister, Carmel Crock of Boise. Both are breast-cancer survivors.
"Keep cycling and you can do it!" Telford replies.
Telford's long-time friend, Madelyn Garrett, usually rides in Little Red, but was sick this spring and unable to train. So this weekend, the two kept company.
"There is a profound goodness in her. So just being next to her, you feel good," Garrett said.
"Why are people drawn to her? It's obvious. She's one of the most interesting people we've ever met."