Monday October 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- There was beer, and televised football, and lots of people with a lot of love at Johnny G's Beach House on Wahconah Street on Sunday afternoon.

The event was a fundraiser for longtime coach Joe Racicot. Racicot, in his late 50s, has been confined to a wheelchair since an accident when he was 21 paralyzed him. And throughout that time, Racicot has rarely, if ever, complained, according to his friends. In fact, Racicot is a uniformly cheerful man, always upbeat.

"I've known him for years, and he has never cried on my shoulder," said Beach House owner John Giardina. "He's never done it with anyone, as far as I know."

Racicot's companion of six years, Lynn Richards, makes one of those "You've got to be kidding me" faces when asked if privately, Racicot ever complains of his plight.,

"No way," she said. "Never."

The money raised on Sunday, and at a bigger fundraiser at the ITAM Lodge on Nov. 2, will be used to buy Racicot an accessible van. He presently drives a Saturn, which is fine, except that getting in and out of the vehicle is getting harder.

"Truthfully, the reason I had to quit coaching track was because it was getting harder and harder to get in and out of my car," said Racicot.

According to Mike Sweener, one of the organizers, a plan to raise money for a vehicle for Racicot has been in the works for several years.

"But Joe has never allowed us to go forward," said Sweener. "Finally, this year, he agreed.

"This is something Joe needs, not something he wants," said Sweener.

Racicot did not disagree. Despite being wheelchair-bound for most of his life, he is adamant about being independent.

"He still mows the lawn," said Richards. "I would, but he won't let me."

"It's huge," said Racicot of retaining his independence. "It's a big thing."

On Sunday, there were no big speeches. Racicot sat in a corner of the bar and chatted and joked with visitors. He explained that he was excited about the Nov. 2 fundraiser, not because of the potential to raise money for his van. Rather, Racicot is excited because he expects many friends, some of whom he hasn't seen in years, to be in attendance.

"It's been my dream to have something like that," he said. "I'm really excited about it, because I think there will be a lot of people there I've wanted to see for a while.

"All my friends, all my enemies, will all be there," said Racicot laughing.

"He's a nice guy," said longtime friend Mark Quadrozzi. Quadrozzi, along with his brother Mike, has known Racicot since before their days at Taconic High School several decades ago. "But it's more than that. He's empowered himself. People recognize the courage he has.

"People love to help someone who helps himself," said Quadrozzi.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile