Lauryn Williams comes home to thank her fans, inspire youth

ROCHESTER -- Lauryn Williams' life has been a whirlwind since she became part of Olympic history last month.

She has criss-crossed the country making appearances, both with and without her partner, Elana Meyers, with whom she won a silver medal in women's bobsled in Sochi, Russia.

But one thing was important to the Rochester native as she traveled the nation -- she wanted to come home.

Williams got her wish, as she spends the next several days in western Pennsylvania to visit family, friends and her large legion of fans.

"I’m very much looking forward to coming home," Williams said. "Although I no longer live here, Rochester will always be very special to me. The people of Rochester have been absolutely wonderful throughout this whole process and I just want to thank them in person."

The next days promise to be busy ones for the four-time U.S. Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist.

Friday, Williams will make an 11 a.m. stop at Baden Academy Charter School and at 1 p.m., she will visit her Rochester High alma mater. From 5 to 6:30 p.m., she will host a meet-and-greet for the general public in the Rochester gymnasium.

"The students and staff are very excited about Lauryn's visit," Rochester principal Mike Damon said. "I was not here when she was a student here and am looking forward to meeting her myself.

"She is a wonderful example of how hard work and dedication can impact a person's life."

Damon said several teachers who had Williams in class prior to her 2001 graduation will speak. Among them is Wes Hunkler, a mathematics/computer instructor who collects press clippings on Williams' career.

On Saturday, Williams will participate in the Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. downtown.

Williams says that while she has been living out of a suitcases for the past three weeks, she is enjoying the moment.

"I’m currently on a 25-day trip full of events, meetings and other fun stuff," she said. "So I’m happy and grateful that I'm able to fit in a visit to Rochester to say hello and thank you to the fans who have supported me from day one."

Day one started well over a decade ago for the 30-year-old, who began to turn heads on the Junior Olympics circuit before setting Rochester High records in the 100- and 200-meter runs, 400-meter relay and long jump. She further honed her skill at the University of Miami, and, in 2004, won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics. In 2012, she was a member of the United States' 4x100 relay team that won gold in London.

A nagging hamstring injury forced Williams to retire her track shoes last summer, but a chance airport encounter with fellow track and field star Lolo Jones led Williams to follow Jones onto the bobsled circuit.

Just a week into the sport, Williams placed third in the U.S. Push Championships and was named to the U.S. Women’s National Bobsled team. While competing on the international circuit, Williams won two silver medals and one gold medal in five World Cup events. This unprecedented rookie success resulted on a spot on Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics as a brakeman/pushman behind driver Meyers.

"I really just started with what I knew from track because there are a lot of similarities between running and serving as a bobsled brakeman. Having a track and field background definitely helped," she said. "In bobsledding, the brakeman’s job is to run fast and generate enough power to give the driver an edge and that’s my specialty.

"I was actually too light when I first started, so I had to put on some pounds," the 5-foot-3 Williams added. "In the process, I got to eat whatever I wanted, which was great."

In Williams’ first heat in the Winter Olympics, she set the push start record with a time of 5.13 seconds, resulting in a track record for Meyers and her. In Williams’ second heat, she beat her original record to set a new mark with a blistering time of 5.12 seconds. She and Meyers were overtaken by Canada in the final run, finishing just 0.10 seconds from gold.

Williams became one of only five individuals to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and the first American woman to do so.
"Believe it or not, I haven’t had much time to sit and digest everything," she said. "When things calm down and I’m able to breathe, I’ll be able to reflect on the gravity of what just happened and how I can use that to further inspire and motivate young people."

Williams said she is uncertain where she goes from here, but is keeping her options open.

"If this most recent Olympic experience has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to never say never," she said. "I never thought I would get into bobsled, compete in the Winter Olympics, or win a silver medal doing it, but I did and it was an amazing experience. While I’m working on the next phase of my life, I haven’t completely ruled out another Olympics.

"But right now, I definitely want kids to know that you can do anything you put your mind to, and accomplish anything you want to achieve, because hard work knows no limits."

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