BURLINGTON, Mass. (AP) — Hundreds of children and parents and even a pony turned out Thursday to welcome Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman back to the gym where she trains.
Girls and boys alike wore T-shirts with Raisman's face screened on the front and grasped photos for her to sign.
The Needham resident captained the U.S. women's gymnastics team to a gold medal in London before winning individual gold in the floor exercise and bronze on the balance beam. After a whirlwind tour of the talk show circuit in New York, she returned home to Massachusetts on Wednesday afternoon and visited her gym, Brestyan's American Gymnastics Club, for an autograph session Thursday morning.
The crowd ran to Raisman the moment she pulled up in a police car. Raisman immediately hugged her coaches Mihai and Silvia Brestyan.
"Being back here means so much to me," the 18-year-old Raisman said. "Being an inspiration means everything to me because I used to be that little girl who looked up to (Olympic gymnasts)."
Gymnasts from Brestyan's and Exxcel, where Raisman trained as a child, and members of the public grabbed free cheddar and caramel popcorn called Aly's Medal Mix, stopped by an ice cream truck and listened to Adele and Journey songs pumped over a speaker while waiting for their local celebrity.
"She's like an inspiration," said 13-year-old Kailee Heffler. "It's awesome she's a celebrity."
Across the street, about 30 young children sat on the asphalt outside their day care center, taking turns riding a pony or jumping up and down.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Brad Carlson, sports director for the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America, presented Raisman with a framed golden medallion from the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
"Not that you need another gold," Carlson said.
Raisman said she wasn't sure where she would store her three Olympic medals.
"Nothing has even sunk in yet," she said.
Police officers created a makeshift barricade with crime scene tape, directing the crowd of fans who wanted to stop in front of Raisman's table, snap a photo of her, snap a photo with her, deliver little gifts or offer their leotards for signatures.
Raisman signed only photos pre-printed by the gym, writing her signature again and again while six extra markers waited nearby. She handed off photos with an occasional smile, replying "thank you" to anyone who said "congratulations."
Raisman's mother, Lynn Raisman, who gained a measure of fame herself when cameras captured her and her husband's reactions to their daughter's routines during the London Olympics, said she doesn't worry about her daughter getting overwhelmed or developing a big ego.
"She's very lucky," Lynn Raisman said. "She's got a good head, and I think she'll be fine."
Aly Raisman acknowledged another Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, may be in her future.
"2016's in the back of my mind," she said, "but I'm taking it one day at a time."