Natalie Dell could easily be mistaken for any average 27-year-old.
The 2003 graduate of Everett Area High School is working 9-to-5 in Boston as she plans her next career move. She'd prefer to work on the west coast, closer to her boyfriend in San Francisco. She's recovering from a bout of bronchitis. She just got her nails done, and she eats three normal-sized meals a day. The last time she tried to work out, she ran for 25 minutes and then sprawled exhausted on the floor of her parents' house, shouting for water.
Dell does, in fact, enjoy a relatively normal life these days. Normal except that her hometown recently designated Sept. 28 "Natalie Dell Day." And that she caught the bronchitis from 22-hour days at the Olympic Village in London.
Oh, and except for the bronze medal she keeps in her purse.
On Aug. 1, Dell, the former Everett track star who joined the club rowing team as a Penn State freshman, finished in third place in the Olympic women's quadruple sculls as the bow seat rower behind U.S. teammates Adrienne Martelli, Kara Kohler and Megan Kalmoe with a race time of 6 minutes, 40.63 seconds. They finished behind Ukraine (6:35.93) and Germany (6:38.09).
"It was a blast," Dell said of her Olympic experience.
Natalie Dell poses with her bronze medal from the Olympics and her parents, Karen and Rick.
Dell and her teammates spent the first five days of the Games in a quiet rowers' village near the race site, Eton Dorney, a lake 40 minutes outside the city notorious for its tailwind and choppy waters. Removed from the now-infamous party scene in the main athletes' village, the team trained twice a day and spent the rest of the time eating and watching movies, conserving their strength.
Dell barely even saw her parents, Rick and Karen, who traveled to London to watch her compete, during that time.
"As an athlete you're so dialed in," Dell said. "You just don't have an appetite to socialize."
She didn't get to attend the opening ceremonies, either: The quad scull teams first raced the very next morning, on July 28. The U.S. women finished second in their heat behind Germany, which qualified Germany for the final and the United States for the repechage round July 30. Their second-place finish in that race earned them a spot in the medal competition two days later.
"We weren't going home without a medal," Dell said.
So her team chose to "front-end" their final race.
"We decided to show up to the line and just go, blow out the first half of the race and just try to hold on to whatever we had left," she said. "And it got us to the podium."
The final race was excruciating, though - for both Dell and for her support system, albeit in different ways. Her mother and father were "on the edge of our seats the whole time," according to Karen Dell.
"I actually put my hands over my face right before Natalie went over the finish line."
Dell's close friend and work supervisor, Rani Elwy, watched all three races from her home in Boston on NBC's live web streaming. Dell called Elwy briefly between the medal ceremony and the press meeting later that day.
"Rani, I didn't think we were going to make it," Dell told Elwy. "The last 500 meters I thought we were going to die."
Elwy didn't have an easy time during the race, either. Watching the competitions live meant that she, her husband, and their three children sometimes gathered around the family computer while it was still pitch-black outside. The final race started at 7:14 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time.
"That was really stressful because my two daughters had to get a bus to camp at 7:22," Elwy said, laughing.
Perhaps most impressive about the U.S. team's spectacular finish was that it did not delay the Elwy women's departure for the camp bus, even though Dell explained that a particularly strong headwind that day slowed the race times by about thirty seconds.
"The race ended and, literally, we were all in the car at 7:21," Elwy said. "I'm crying because I'm so excited for her. My daughter's saying, 'Mom, don't get into a car accident.'"
After the medal ceremony Dell, Martelli, Kohler and Kalmoe moved to the main athletes' village, where they finally were free to soak up the rest of the Olympic experience. They didn't sleep much, sometimes only getting an hour or two of shut-eye a night.
The family went sightseeing at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, the White Cliffs of Dover, Canterbury Cathedral and Leeds Castle.
"She lived in the moment, every moment that she had free," Karen Dell said. "She just wore herself out."
The athletes also got to watch other events. Every morning at 7 a.m., the Athlete Services Center for the U.S. contingent in the Olympic Village posted the available tickets for that day's events, which were first-come, first-serve. She watched women's wrestling, beach volleyball, track and field, the women's soccer final and synchronized swimming, her favorite.
"It [trying to get the tickets] truly is a competition," Dell said. "You'd have people that had gotten in from 6 a.m. from being out, set their alarms for 6:55, stumbled into the office and got their ticket.
"We wanted to see everything," Dell said. "There simply was no time."
Corporate sponsors such as Nike and Procter & Gamble rented out enormous lofts throughout the city to create exclusive athlete meeting spaces similar to country clubs. The sites were closed to the public, but Dell's parents spent a great deal of time in these houses, enjoying meals and watching Olympic events on big-screen TVs with other parents.
Dell particularly enjoyed the NBC house, which hosted a party for medal-winners and those with network connections.
"There was an incredible live band, more gourmet food and sushi than you could dream of, a beautiful bar - too much champagne - and celebrities walking around. And everybody's got a medal around their neck. It's a fantasy land," Dell said.
Fantasy land is an exhausting place, though. Dell said she's happy to be back home "in reality." She's wrapping up her employment in Boston and pursuing keynote corporate-culture speaking engagements.
"I want to use my message to positively impact organizations and people," she said.
Elwy thinks Dell's next strokes will be big ones.
"No matter what she does, she will be such a dream and a huge asset to any organization," Elwy said. "It's been wonderful to work with her on something other than rowing. The kind of motivation and determination she brings to rowing she also brings to her job."
Elwy remembers walking into Dell's office one day during Dell's time as a full-time working elite athlete and seeing that she had an ice pack on her back.
"She never complained," Elwy said.
Those days, however, now are comfortably in the past for Dell.
"Yesterday she said, 'I don't have to wake up and eat six bagels,'" Elwy said.
Dell said she's a "happily retired" rower. After graduating from Penn State in 2007, Dell continued her training in Cambridge, Mass. until she made the national squad two years ago. On June 22, Dell was named to the U.S. women's Olympic team.
"The entire time I was training, I was working for something," she said. "I wasn't training for the sake of training. I'm very goal-driven and goal-oriented. My training was just a pathway to my ultimate goal of getting to the Olympics and winning an Olympic medal. And now that I've accomplished that, I'm ready to move on to the next thing."
Dell's visit to Everett for the day honoring her will be the first time she's been back since her high school graduation. Other than the hometown trip, her plans are a little more liquid. She's trying to find her place in the corporate world while accepting the praise pouring in from all over the country, including from Pennsylvania congressman Bill Shuster. Her parents are "still coming down off the high," Karen Dell said.
"We are just so proud of Natalie."
Elwy expressed a similar sentiment about Natalie Dell's future.
"I want her to find the next thing in her life that's going to make her as excited as rowing does," Elwy said.
For now, though, Dell, who conducts research into veterans' mental health, is content to carry her bronze medal everywhere she goes.
"I don't want it to leave my side," she said. "I suspect at some point my desire to take it everywhere - I won't be as paranoid."
She's excited about assuming the rhythms of normal citizen life.
What will she do with the medal if that time comes? Dell gave a mischievous giggle.
"Get out of traffic violations," she said.
Well, she's almost a normal citizen.