Olympian Gets Parade In Remsen, Where Ticker Tape Is Made Of Snow

The small town of Remsen held an Olympic-sized party for the first U.S. woman to medal in luge. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports that Erin Hamlin was welcomed home with a parade.

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The first American athlete to win an Olympic medal in singles luge returned home last night. Erin Hamlin's thrilling runs on the ice track in Sochi earned her the bronze. She also earned a police escort past miles of cheering crowds to her tiny hometown of Remsen. It's in the foothills of New York's Adirondack Mountains. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein was there for her homecoming.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: It seems like all of Remsen, population 1,900, is ducking in and out of the soda fountain to warm up from the bitter cold. Women in signed Erin Hamlin sweatshirts clang cowbells. It's a '50s-themed ice cream shop where you can order Erin's own creation, the Erin Hamlin sundae.

LYNN BOUCHER: Vanilla ice cream with peanut butter, hot fudge, Oreos and peanut butter cups with whipped cream and a cherry.

SOMMERSTEIN: Yeah. Lugers must burn a lot of calories. Owner Lynn Boucher says the whole area is Erin Hamlin crazy and she deserves it.

BOUCHER: Couldn't have happened to a nicer person, and it couldn't have happen to a nicer family. And after she won, they're just as nice, just as down-to-earth as they were before.

SOMMERSTEIN: It hasn't been an easy road for the Hamlins. Erin is 27. After winning the World Luge Championship in 2009, she finished a disappointing 16th at the Vancouver Games in 2010. But Hamlin's mother, Eilleen, says Erin went to Sochi intensely focused and nailed a near-flawless first run.

EILLEEN HAMLIN: When she came down in second place after that first run, we were just pretty much in luge shock, saying, oh, my God, she's got to hold on. She's got to keep it clean.

SOMMERSTEIN: And she did. So, now hundreds of people are lining the only drag in Remsen awaiting their hero.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) God bless Erin Hamlin, our hometown girl.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And here is Erin on her float.

SOMMERSTEIN: With snow falling, Erin Hamlin waves, bronze medal glinting around her neck. Then everybody runs inside for a rally in the school gym.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Remsen's own Erin Hamlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SOMMERSTEIN: People chant, USA, USA. Then the Olympic slider takes the mic with a warm and confident smile.

ERIN HAMLIN: Growing up here and just having everyone in this community and surrounding area support me for the last 14 years no matter how well I did or how terrible I did has been amazing. And I can't imagine a better group of people to come home and share this with. And I...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SOMMERSTEIN: Remsen is like any small town. Everyone knows each other. There are plenty of hard times with the good. Except now Remsen has an Olympic medallist. Sixth-graders Kristen Waterbury and Sidney Boucher carry around a welcome home, Erin poster signed by all their classmates.

KRISTEN WATERBURY: She's an inspiration to everybody. We're all very proud of her. And she just - she blows all of us away with getting a bronze.

SIDNEY BOUCHER: It makes you dream so far. It makes you want to get your goals. It makes you want to succeed everything you dreamed for.

SOMMERSTEIN: On this night, Remsen feels better than gold. It's got Erin Hamlin and her bronze. For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein.

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