Over the last several years, Gail Richard (aka Weez) has been teasing the dragon boat teams that they would tip over during the Peekskill Celebration races. Weez, a nickname derived from her maiden name Weisner, loved being a part of the races. It is a community event and she was truly ingrained in Buchanan and the surrounding community – she worked as a handicap bus driver, served on the Buchanan Village Board and as Deputy Mayor; volunteered with numerous local organizations and gave great Super Bowl parties, her friends remember. On July 1, Weez lost her battle with liver cancer at age 61.
Saddened friends and family will honor their lost friend at this year’s Cancer Awareness Dragon Boat competition. The team she used to tease and her son Will, who has volunteered at the races for the last seven years, are racing in her honor.
“I am trying to practice now so I don’t get choked up that day,” said Will. “The cool thing about it is I always go with the same group for the Cancer Awareness Races. So, out of the 20 people, probably 15 of them were friends or went to school with my mom or at least knew her. The last few years she was always there taking pictures,” said Will, a 2002 Hendrick Hudson High School graduate who now lives upstate and works as a teacher.
“It is humbling they are doing this for my mom," he said.
Will has been a steersperson for the races for the last four years, which means he drives the 41-foot-long canoes with colorful dragonheads and decorative tails, directing the paddlers and drummer.
“It’s great, it’s competitive, everyone gets out and everyone has fun,” Will said of the race.
After the race Saturday morning, Peekskill Celebration will hold a rose ceremony where all 120 paddlers from 15 different teams will toss a rose into the Hudson River in honor of those who are fighting the battle against cancer, who have been lost to cancer, or who have won their battles against the disease.
Also at this year’s Celebration, due to increased interest in the Cancer Awareness Races, that competition has been expanded to a full morning of races, while the community-focused teams will compete in the afternoon. Also, Celebration has partnered with Empire Dragons, a cancer survivor and dragon boat support team from New York City, to boost participation and raise awareness. The Hudson Valley Hospital Center, is the signature sponsor of the cancer races.
Each Cancer Awareness team raises about $1,000 to race a boat; all of the donations go towards a cancer awareness charity.
“Dragon boating is the perfect team building exercise for businesses and non-profits and is a popular rehabilitative sport for cancer survivors because it involves physical training with people who are facing similar challenges. Cancer-related teams use dragon boating to build camaraderie out on the beautiful Hudson River,” said Peekskill Celebration Executive Director Cathy Montaldo.
Registered Cancer Awareness teams include: Empire Dragons, Machestic Dragons, Steel City Dragons, Flying Phoenix, Suz Crew, Fire Breathing Dragons, Support Connection, Miles For Hope, Hudson Valley Hospital Center and Yin Yang Warriors.
The teams practice in the weeks leading up to the race, lead by trained representatives of the like Will Richard. During those sessions, teams learn safety procedures and how to paddle in sync with other team members. Winning requires paddling in unison, strength and endurance. Teams require a minimum of 16 paddlers, a drummer and a steersperson. The 400-foot race takes just about a minute to complete.
Before Weez’s team goes out on Saturday morning, Will plans to continue his mothers teasing in good spirits. “It is a rickety boat, you might tip over!” he will tell them, as they all remember Weez’s “joie de vie,” and race for others fighting the same battle she faced.
The rose ceremony will begin at 12 p.m. the races begin at 9 a.m., both at Riverfront Green. Read the full schedule here.
More on the event, from Peekskill Celebration:
Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday night, our Main Stage entertainment features the brightest performers in the Hudson Valley. The Friday night concert features the West Point Jazz Knights, and officials will soon announce their Saturday night featured artist. Local community acts will perform the remainder of time.
The Entergy Fireworks Extravaganza is the largest fireworks display north of the Macy’s annual Fourth of July display and is one of the signature activities that makes Celebration unique in the Hudson Valley. The pyrotechnic display is synced with music provided by WHUD 100.7 Radio.
The City of Peekskill partners with Celebration to provide police, public works, parks and recreation and emergency services and logistical support. In addition, major sponsors like Entergy, Wheelabrator, Hudson Valley Hospital Center, MCA of the Hudson Valley, Chase Media, D. Bertoline and Sons, and others, help to underwrite all of the free activities.
Updated information is provided on the Celebration website www.peekskillcelebration.com.