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Volunteers, friends allow race to soar

If you’ve ever worked as a volunteer at the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, you have a little glimpse into what makes the event and the sport of hot-air ballooning so special.

It’s a sport that depends upon the help of one’s friends helping one another.

A simple hot-air balloon flight can require four people to properly launch, chase and crew for the balloon. This past weekend, Natchez played host to more than 65 balloons and dozens and dozens of volunteer crewmembers.

That’s not counting the dozens of volunteers who help work the festival event itself.

Producing the event is a major undertaking, one that, like hot-air ballooning, requires lots of “friends.”

One of those friends of the balloon race was honored this year with the Spirit of Steckler Award. The recipient, Rick Freeman, earns his name on a plaque but perhaps a greater tribute for his volunteerism is to be honored as having the same spirit as the late Dr. David Steckler, for whom the award is given.

Steckler died of cancer 15 years ago, but his giving, community spirit lives on in Natchez through the many lives he’s touched and through the award that bears his name. Freeman, like Steckler and countless others in Natchez, knows when to put his own wishes and desires aside, roll up his sleeves and give back to the community he loves so much.

It’s one of the many things that makes Natchez such a great place to call home.