Remembering GassyPOSTED: 08/17/12 11:48 AM
St. Maarten / By Milton G Pieters – Not many young people on St Maarten and old knew who George Gaston Richardson aka Gassy was, but those who had the opportunity to secure his friendship would agree that he was one of the best racing cyclists to represent St Maarten, locally and internationally.
Gassy, who was born on September 23, 1928 in the fishing village of Grand Case, died on August 5 while receiving treatment at the hospital in Marigot. Thanks to a book written by Lasana M. Sekou and published by the House of Nehesi Publishers, the sporting public on both sides of the island was able to get an indepth insight into the life of a real champion cyclist that had the ability to drive fear into his opponents.
Losing his father at a tender age made life for Gassy very challenging and it was entirely up to his mother Olive Richardson to lay the ground work for himself along with his siblings when they eventually took up residence in Anguilla.
Although Gassy was saddled with the responsibility of seeking a source of income for the family, it was not long before he developed a strong affection by bicycles, to be exact, those that were suitable for racing.
It all started out as casual races for the rights to brag who was the best, but little did he know that those events prepared him both physically and mentally for the path he chose. But it was not until 1943 that Gassy got his own bike which he bought in Guadeloupe for 500Francs.
And how did Gassy at age 15, get all that money in those days which was the equivalent to $ 100.00 US dollars,? By selling sheep, goat, cows and meat birds which was raised on the Forest Estate farm, but he did not seek a market in Anguilla, he chose to travel to St Martin where he was more familiar.
The year 1943 was also a lucky year for Gassy, because that was when he won his first race and there was never a dull moment in his illustrious career which spanned the better part of 50 years. He was a prominent fixture in the annual Bastille Day activities which pitted the riders from the Dutch against the French .
By the early 50’s Gassy became a household name, the boy from Grand Case had established a name for himself and was unbeatable. But when the news finally spread like wildfire about the cyclist who never lost a race in Aruba in the early 50’s.
Gassy , the local undisputed champion cyclists was invited to compete in Aruba at the age of 24 and that is when he met his equal by the name of Rudolf Chin A Loi, the best Aruba had to offer. But competing against an unknown opponent on unfamiliar ground had little or no effect on Gassy.
Gassy was able to learn that his opponent, who trained every day would normally have 50 pounds of weight strapped to his bike and as far as the Arubans were concerned, Chin a Loi was unbeatable. But Gassy ended up being Chin A Loi’s nemesis and he joined the ranks of riders in the region that were able to dominate the cycling circles.
It was not until Gassy matched peddles with Victor Curlingford, the champion of the Netherlands Antilles territory from 1963 to 1972, that Gassy was forced to settle for the second place on several occasions.
But he had already attained his notoriety and soon he became a member of Aruba’s Village Cycling Club, he also matched peddles in the annual Lago Sports Olympiad against some of the best riders in the region including Ronald Cassidy from Trinidad & Tobago.
Riding on the roads of St Maarten was not exactly like riding in a park and Gassy was the victim on two occasions when he was struck down in 1995 in Cayhill and in 1997, he rear ended a vehicle that was travelling up the Cole Bay Hill.
News spread quickly about the 1997 accident, some even thought that he was dead, but he was able to get back to his feet and ride again, but that marked the end of his level of competitiveness and the end of an era.
As recent as 2005, Gassy could still be seen riding along the Airport Boulevard while daring the elements, but cycling was not the only sport Gassy loved. He was also a formidable wrestler who claimed to have never lost a bout even when going up against opponents twice his size and also an excellent swimmer.
Gassy, who was also called ‘Little Thing’ in the wrestling circles, the Red Haired Hurricane and ‘Frenchy’ in Aruba will be remembered by the veteran cyclists as the rider who would let his feet do the talking while competing in races held in Venezuela, Anguilla, Curacao, Trinidad & Tobago and Colombia.
The store room at the house Gassy lived still has the memories of St Maarten’s finest, maybe one day, a chapter of the life of Gassy would be included in a new history book and he has what it takes to be remembered because in addition to being a good athlete.
Gassy was also one of the recipients of the University of St Maarten Local Heroes awards and he was bestowed with the honor to light the torch for the opening of the first Dutch Kingdom Games to be hosted by St Maarten at the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex in 1999. Gassy is gone, but his legacy can never be forgotten.
The earthly remains of the late Gassy will be available for viewing today from 12.00pm to 1,00pm at the Royal Funeral Home and that will be followed by a procession of cyclists to the church where they will be a second viewing from 2,00pm to 3,00pm. The last rites will take place at the Simpson Bay Cemetery.