Olympic medalist Lauryn Williams honored in hometown of Rochester

| Friday, March 14, 2014, 11:31 p.m.

Lauryn Williams sat down in a rainbow-colored rocking chair, with a monkey painted on the seat, and looked out over what's known as the kindergarten well in Rochester Area School District's K-12 complex.

On the walls behind her were posters reading, “Way to go Lauryn,” and, “USA.” In front of her were seated Rochester's youngest students, many dressed in red, white and blue, and some wearing shirts with, “Go Lauryn,” written on them. Immediately, dozens of little hands shot in the air to ask Williams questions.

“Were you proud to go to the Olympics?” one child asked.

Very proud, she answered.

“How do you run that fast?” another questioned.

“I practice,” Williams said. “Do your teachers ever tell you that practice makes perfect?”

Yes, they all answered in unison, then another question.

“How old are you?”

“I'm 30,” Williams answered, which brought on an outburst of laughter.

There aren't many questions anyone can ask Williams that she hasn't already heard, although the Olympic track and now bobsled medalist admits that with kids, you just never know.

One that caught her a little off-guard during Friday's homecoming celebration at her old school wasn't so much a question as a statement from a middle school boy.

“He raised his hand and said, ‘I don't know if anyone told you how proud we are and what an impact you had on us,” she said. “He kind of gave me a little speech and he sounded like a little adult. It was really cool to hear that.”

Williams made history a little more than three weeks ago at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when she won silver in the bobsled — missing gold by a split-second — and became the first American woman to medal in both the Summer and Winter Games.

On Friday, she was back in the small town north of Pittsburgh she said she'll always call home, where she was honored in a school assembly.

Former school administrators and coaches recounted not only her rise as a PIAA track star but also her tenacity as an eighth-grader whose first question of the brand new superintendent was about when their first dance would take place.

State senators and representatives issued official citations and honors. Students saw a video that included Williams' legendary performance in the 2001 PIAA 4X100m relay, in which she ran from last place to first as the anchor and the Lady Rams won gold.

Afterward, Williams did Q&A sessions with the different age groups, where she encouraged students to ask her anything.

Questions ranged from is bobsled scary to what goes through your mind before a race to how tall are you (5-foot-3 and a quarter was her answer, emphasis on the quarter). Some wanted to know how long she practiced, others wondered if anyone ever tried putting her down and what it was like to be in a different country.

With all of them, Williams emphasized the importance of education, practice and hard work.

She even admitted when one of the youngest children asked if she wanted to go back to the Winter Olympics that she wasn't ruling it out, although it was a long way off. For now, she plans to use her MBA and become a certified financial planner to help other Olympic athletes manage their money.

Even the littlest students knew a lot about her accomplishments.

Teacher Aimee Siok, who was Williams' assistant track coach for two years, said the whole kindergarten gathered in her classroom to watch the race live. Afterward, they all drew pictures and wrote messages in a journal that Siok made into a scrapbook for Williams. Many of the young students gifted Williams with drawings they'd made to celebrate her arrival.

“I told them this is a part of history,” Siok said. “When you meet her, this might never, ever happen again. You're going to meet an Olympian that came to our school. We have talked about it a lot.”

Williams, who is still in the whirlwind of post-Olympic tour and media stops, said she knew her old school would pull out all the stops, but she still was amazed by the support.

“I knew there was going to be something big, but I had no idea how big or how good it would make me feel to know so many people were counting on me,” said Williams, who will take part in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Pittsburgh. “Just to know I made such an impact on my town and my community is really cool.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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