Memorial Park and the sidewalks lining Highland Avenue in Needham were alive with excitement Sunday afternoon as thousands of area residents gathered to welcome home gold-medal winning Olympian Aly Raisman.
Raisman is a life long Needham resident and a graduate of Needham High School. She won two gold medals and a bronze medal in the women's gymnastics competitions at the 2012 Olympics in London.
On Aug. 16 Raisman's gym, Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, welcomed her home with a rally. Hundreds of people came out to welcome the gymnast home from London. The energy of that event was only topped by the Needham celebration yesterday.
The celebration began with a parade featuring local veterans, musicians, Girl and Boy Scouts and local gymnasts and a baton group. Raisman arrived in a sports car to the cheers of the crowd who followed her escort to the podium at Memorial Park.
Many town and state officials spoke to the crowd about the significance of Raisman's achievements and the pride of her local community.
"Can we get together a nice crowd or what?" Chair of the Needham Board of Selectmen Jerry Wasserman asked the audience.
"I've been asked recently what Aly's victory means for Needham," Wasserman continued. "She was brought up and educated here and this is where she achieved so much. We must have done something right. We are happy to welcome her home. She is a great role model."
State Sen. Michael Rush said he was thrilled to be at the rally.
"This is the epitome of all your training, hard work and dedication," he told the Olympian. "I'm thrilled to be here to celebrate your accomplishment and your representing the United States of America."
Raisman was given many gifts, including a hand-crafted chair, an antique piece of pottery from the town of Dedham and a jacket from the Norfolk County Sheriff's office. She was also sworn in as an honorary member of the Sheriff's Department.
There was also a proclamation naming Aug. 26, 2012, Aly Raisman Day in the town of Needham.
Raisman's parents, Rick and Lynn Raisman, also had a couple of words for the crowd.
"We'd like to thank everyone for coming," Rick said. "It's unbelievable the amount of support we've seen. I'm speechless about how incredible this is for our family. And of course we are very proud of Aly."
"We can't thank you enough," Lynn added.
Raisman herself also had a few words for her fans and fellow Needham residents.
"Thank you all for coming, this means so much," she told the crowd. "I'm speechless. I've worked so hard and this has been the best year of my life. I love you all and I hope I made you all proud."
Before the parade began Patch asked some of the members of the crowd their thoughts on their home-town hero.
"She's awesome," said Charlotte Tolman, 9, of Needham. "I like her floor exercise."
"I'm so excited to see her!" added Grace Beachman.
"I think she's so awesome and she is a big inspiration," 12-year-old Molly Connelly said.
Her friend, Emma Garber, agreed.
"She's a big inspiration for kids who want to exceed," Garber said. "She's so good."
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