WHEELING - For many powerboaters who will take to the Ohio River during this Labor Day weekend's Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, the lure of the sport is the pure sense of freedom they get from barely skimming the water's surface, pushing their crafts' speedometers toward triple digits.
But the concepts of freedom and independence are relative - and for 12-year-old Kelsi Weaver, who will serve as the regatta's first-ever Easter Seals Ambassador, they mean something very different. That feeling can come from something as simple as swimming, getting out of bed or hanging out with friends at the mall.
Weaver, a sixth-grader at Martins Ferry Middle School, has received therapy at Easter Seals since she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant. She participates in aquatic, physical and occupational therapy at the organization's rehabilitation center on National Road, which benefits from proceeds of the regatta each year.
TIARA PRESENTED — Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta organizer Debbie Joseph presents a tiara to 12-year-old Kelsi Weaver, who will serve as the regatta’s first-ever Easter Seals Ambassador during the event this Labor Day weekend. -- Ian Hicks
Her progress toward independence is possible in large part because of the therapy she receives at Easter Seals.
When she was much younger, even using her fingers was a challenge. Today, Kelsi is taking horseback riding lessons, holding her breath underwater and swimming without the aid of any flotation device. She's looking forward to playing the bells in the school band this year and, one day, making her mark as a big-time stage actress.
"All the things I struggled with, it's not as hard for me anymore," Weaver said. "It's getting easier. ... I feel more independent."
Kelsi will be greeting people throughout the event, thanking them for their participation and raising awareness of Easter Seals and its mission of helping those with disabilities. Never one to be shy - she's made multiple TV appearances during Easter Seals telethons - Kelsi said she's looking forward to the task.
"We felt like we needed somebody to show what Easter Seals does," regatta organizer Debbie Joseph said. "We wanted somebody to put a face on what we're really doing."
Since 2006, the event has donated almost $35,000 to the organization, all of which stays right here in the Ohio Valley, according to Joseph. She noted the regatta doesn't charge admission, so the ability to make that donation largely depends on entry fees, souvenir sales and direct donations.
"It's all fun and we have a good time, but the real reason we're here is to raise money for Easter Seals.," Joseph said.
The eighth-annual event is set Friday through Sunday. WesBanco returns as the regatta's naming sponsor.
Although the boats won't hit the water until Saturday, the pits will be open Friday giving spectators a chance to see the boats up close and meet the drivers as they arrive at Heritage Port from all over the country - and even from Canada and Australia.
Opening ceremonies will be at 9:15 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with heats from 10 a.m. to noon both days. Following a lunch break, the drivers return to action from 2-6 p.m. There will be live music Saturday night and during the lunch breaks both Saturday and Sunday, all free and open to the public.