As two of the Tour de White Rock’s longest-serving volunteers, Flora Young and her late husband, Sam, long ago wove their names into the fabric of the longstanding cycling event.
Now, some of that fabric will be permanently preserved, after Flora donated all of her husband’s old race-day T-shirts, which are given to volunteers, to the White Rock Museum and Archives – one for each year Sam was involved in the race, right from the rain-soaked first running of the event, on Labour Day weekend in 1980.
Though Sam passed away in January 2018 at the age of 88, Flora remains a dedicated volunteer and will again be out on the course Sunday morning during the 40th annual road race.
Flora and race founder Alfred Anderson stopped by the museum and archives building – just a few steps from the Tour de White Rock’s start/finish line – on Tuesday to drop off the colourful shirts, all of which are in pristine condition despite their age.
“Sam had all these shirts, but there was no way he would ever wear them (after that year’s race). It was the same with his marathon shirts – they’re all brand-new,” Flora explained. “I said to him one day, ‘Well if you won’t wear them, why are you keeping them?’ But he wouldn’t get rid of them. He’d always say, ‘Oh, no, no no, I have to keep them.’
“He liked them for the memories.”
Still, Flora decided recently that something needed to be done with the box of Tour mementos, and asked Anderson – who met the Youngs during that inaugural race – what he thought she should do with them. At one point, she considered donating them to the homeless – “Sam used to like to take his old running shoes down to Bellingham and donate them to the mission,” Flora explained – but eventually, the idea to donate them to the museum came up.
“Sam, because he was such a warm, devoted person – as is Flora – I just thought some kind of special recognition should be given to him for all the years he and Flora volunteered,” Anderson said.
“They’ve been here since Day 1. Without the two of them, we would’ve had a terrible day that first race. We would’ve been down two people, and we only had nine (volunteers) to begin with.”
Now, of course, the two-day Tour de White Rock – which runs Saturday and Sunday – requires an army of 300 volunteers, plus city staff and organizers from BC Superweek, the racing series of which the White Rock event is now a part.
Flora said they chose to volunteer that first year for a simple reason: they just liked the sport.
“We just heard there was going to be a bicycle race and wanted to be involved,” she said.
— Tour de White Rock (@TourdeWR) July 10, 2019
Anderson – who got the idea for the first race after seeing similar events in small towns throughout the U.K. – said it’s no small feat that the Youngs were able to keep each year’s volunteer shirts.
“I lost a lot of mine because I’d give them to family and friends. I have a few now, still, but eventually, you have so many, and you don’t really need them, so you start giving them away,” he said.
Growing up in Ireland, the Youngs were both cycling enthusiasts, and Sam, Flora explained, was a competitive racer there when they met. The two immigrated to Canada in 1957, settling in Montreal – where they were married – before moving to the Semiahmoo Peninsula more than 40 years ago.
“Sam used to be able to take a bicycle apart and put it back together in half an hour, I swear. He knew everything about bikes,” Flora said.
“In Belfast, there was this statue, and we all used to meet there on Sunday mornings. We had a piece of chalk we’d hide there, and we’d write (on the sidewalk) next to the statue where we were going, so if you came later, all you had to do was look down and you’d know where to ride (to catch up).
“Cycling is just in your blood. It’s something that we both loved.”
At each Tour de White Rock, Sam used to love chatting about the sport with the riders, Flora said. He’d offer his water bottle to a thirsty competitor as a way to spark conversation.
“This is when the riders had to bring their own water, so he’d say to me, ‘Oh, I have to go talk to that person and see where they’re from.’ So he’d walk over and offer his water, and then talk. He just loved to talk to them.”
Given his love of cycling – and of cyclists – it’s perhaps fitting then that one of Sam’s last bikes is now being used by a cyclist in Cuba. After her husband passed away, Flora gave the bike to one of her son’s friends, who was travelling to the country and took the bike with him to be donated.
“I got a picture of the person who received it… there he is standing with Sam’s bike, and next to him is his old bike,” Flora said.
“Wooden pedals, no brakes… just straight handlebars. Apparently, it could hardly even turn. And there he was in the picture with Sam’s bike, giving a thumbs up.
“Sam would’ve been really happy to see that.”
Flora has plenty of memories of her four decades of volunteering at the local race, too.
In an age before social media and the internet, the races of the early 1980s often came as a surprise to local residents, who would be taken aback to find Flora and other volunteers on the roadside, impeding them from crossing the street.
“Sometimes, you’d get some abuse at the corners. You’d say, ‘Sorry, you can’t cross here. Riders are coming.’
“And people would get upset and say they pay their taxes and can (walk where they want),” she said, laughing at the memory.
One memory, however, stands out clearest, she said.
It was years ago, and one woman had fallen far behind the lead pack, and as she pedalled past, Flora called out to offer encouragement.
“She was way behind, and I just said to her, ‘Keep it going – you’re going to finish.’ And she just said, ‘Thank you,’” Flora recalled.
“You know what? That made my day. She said ‘thank you.’
“Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”