'Team Heather' shows strong support at pep rally
A crowd of nearly a hundred well-wishers, many of them cancer survivors, gathered at Hayworth Cancer Center Friday morning to show their support for High Point speedskater Heather Richardson and her family.
“This is amazing, having all these people come out here to support us — it’s wonderful,” said Richardson’s mother, Pat, who works at the cancer center.
The pep rally doubled as a send-off party for Pat, who leaves Saturday for Sochi, Russia, to watch her daughter compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The event was sponsored by Guide Posts of Strength (GPS), a High Point cancer support group for which the young Olympian serves as an official ambassador.
“It’s actually pretty natural that Heather Richardson became Guide Posts of Strength’s first ambassador,” said Cathy Weaver, founder and executive director of GPS. “When she’s home, she visits with cancer patients and shares stories of training, determination and encouragement. And when she’s out training and traveling, she proudly sports our GPS logo and shares our mission around the world.”
In an email from Sochi, Richardson said visiting cancer patients in her hometown is the least she can do.
“It really means so much to have them coming in every day fighting for their lives, and asking my mom how I’m doing,” she wrote.
Friday morning, GPS staff handed out small American flags and plastic gold medals to participants to help get them in the spirit of the event, which also featured patriotic music and red-white-and-blue cupcakes. The Marine Corps JROTC Color Guard from High Point Central High School, Heather Richardson’s alma mater, presented the colors.
As part of the hourlong ceremonies, GPS presented gold medals to Pat Richardson and her husband, Jeff, recognizing them as a “Gold Medal Olympic Mom” and “Gold Medal Olympic Dad.”
GPS also presented them with an American flag and a GPS flag — the latter of which features more than a hundred handwritten messages of encouragement from local well-wishers — to be delivered to their daughter in Sochi.
Many of the participants Friday morning were cancer survivors who wanted to show their support for the Richardson family.
One of them, for example, was 77-year-old retired Master Sgt. Martin Stensen of Thomasville, a Vietnam War veteran who came straight from chemo — in full uniform — and led the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremonies.
“I just finished my chemo and came right over,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.”
Students in an autism class at Ferndale Middle School walked to the cancer center for the ceremonies and gave Pat Richardson a handmade poster wishing Heather good luck.
Weaver, of GPS, said she was gratified by the strong show of support for “Team Heather” Friday morning.
“When Heather skates in Sochi,” she said, “she embodies the championship spirit that we know will carry her to the podium to receive the gold medal.”
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