By Katie McFadden
We want YOU…to give our warriors a big Rockaway welcome. The warriors are coming back this weekend. Hope for the Warriors is bringing a group of 20 wounded servicemembers and their families to the peninsula for some summer fun on the water, starting with a welcome parade through town on the evening of Thursday, July 6.
Wounded warriors coming to town is a longtime tradition, one that, like many things, was put on pause due to Covid. The last warrior weekend was held in 2019. But with the all-clear, Hope for the Warriors is returning this weekend with the help of local residents, Richie Cannon and Richie Whalen, the FDNY Foundation, the Gary Sinise Foundation, and many more.
Cannon is thrilled to bring the tradition back. “It’s great to continue what was started before us. If you look back, this is a 20-year tradition for Rockaway. It all started with volunteers years ago when this was run after September 11 and when we heard it wasn’t going to continue, we took it over this year,” Cannon said. “It might be a little smaller this year, but we’re keeping the same mission of honoring our veterans and supporting our country.”
The Rockaway and Breezy Point communities are asked to turn out in big numbers to line the streets with flags in hand to give these warriors the welcome they deserve on Thursday. The warriors are coming from all over the country for the event. They will gather and leave from Rescue 5 in Staten Island with FDNY and NYPD escorts and will travel along the Belt Parkway, crossing over the Marine Parkway Bridge at about 5:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Coming from uptown, they are expected to reach Rockaway Beach Boulevard around 6:30 to 6:45 p.m., where they’ll travel down to Beach 120th Street and make a left turn down to Beach Channel Drive, where they’ll continue up to Roxbury and Breezy Point along State Road. After the parade, the warriors will enjoy a welcome party at the Rockaway Point Yacht Club, which will serve as the homebase for most of the weekend’s activities.
On Friday, July 7 and Saturday, July 8, the warriors and their families will be able to enjoy a host of water activities. They can participate in kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding right off of the bay or enjoy fishing or sailing on local boats being provided for the weekend. Another big aspect is adaptive surfing, which will give the warriors the opportunity to surf the waves on the ocean.
The surf program is being provided by some experts in the field—AmpSurf. This non-profit, The Association of Amputee Surfers, has been providing adaptive surfing programs across the country since 2003. At the helm of the New York Chapter is John Roberts, who will be running the show in Breezy Point on Friday and Saturday morning, giving the servicemembers and their families the opportunity to surf with the help of adaptive equipment and several volunteers that will ensure they’re safe while having a good time on the waves.
Roberts says this year’s warrior program came together last minute, but as AmpSurf New York regularly holds programs for locals with special needs or physical challenges, he was at the ready. “We’re all set. We do this all the time,” he said. “We don’t know anything about these folks, their ages, sex, whether they have physical wounds or psychological. Safety is number one for me. We don’t expect people to be getting up and shooting the curl, some will be standing, kneeling, laying down, and some even have a fear of going in, so we just help them stand in the water. Whatever they can do is what we work with,” Roberts said.
Roberts is glad to be a part of it once again. “This has been a long tradition and it’s something we do as volunteers. We make them as comfortable as possible and make sure they have a great weekend. When they’re happy and having fun, it makes me feel good and I think most of my staff would say the same. We see these guys, and some may have been in combat but over the years, we’ve been going from people with amputations to more people with PTSD or Traumatic Brain injuries and that’s due to the advanced technology we have today where roadside bombs aren’t blowing these folks up as often. They’re mostly dealing with psychological wounds. No matter what, it makes us feel good to help them as volunteers.”
The Rockaway Warrior Weekend is a weekend of volunteerism and stepping up for those who gave so much for this country. “Rockaway is awesome,” Cannon said. “AmpSurf is doing the surfing and because we’re hosting everything else at the Rockaway Point Yacht Club, they’re providing us with their volunteers, and people are offering their boats. We have Divinos Pizza in Howard Beach, Pizza on the Point in Breezy Point, Bishops Barns in Roxbury and Bagel & Barista in Rockaway donating all the food for the weekend. The Graybeards are also a big sponsor, which is always huge for us. These communities do what they do best. They show up and support.”
In addition to the local water activities, the warriors will be treated to a sunset cruise around New York Harbor, leaving from Brooklyn Army Terminal at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 7. And folks are welcome to join them. For $100 a ticket, guests will get to enjoy the cruise, dinner, music and access to a cash bar.
The weekend will end on the morning of Sunday, July 9 with a Mass at the Breezy Point September 11 memorial, where Breezy Point co-op residents and their guests can join the warriors.
Cannon says the best way for folks to get involved is by showing their support at Thursday’s welcome parade. “Make sure you line the streets and bring your flags out and let these warriors know that we’re still here to support them and our country,” Cannon said.
Special Rockaway Warrior Weekend t-shirts will also be on sale along the parade route on Thursday, and through the Breezy Point community. For sunset cruise tickets or t-shirts, contact Richie Cannon at 917-577-1173 or Richie Whalen at 718-640-5081.
Photos by Nicole Taylor-Lang.