EVERETT - Friday was a long day for Olympic bronze medalist Natalie Dell, but every minute was worth it.
The 2003 Everett graduate, who was the bow rower in the United States' women's quadruple sculls team in London this past summer, spent the entire day visiting and meeting people all over Bedford County.
To her, "Natalie Dell Day" was nothing short of extraordinary.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Everett Area High School sophomore Desiree Sparks, 14, has newspaper clippings signed by Olympic bronze medalist Natalie Dell on Friday.
"It was incredible. I didn't realize how excited people are about the Olympics," the 27-year-old Dell said. "To every person I meet, they're just so excited to see me and see the medal, it's like I relived the experience. It's just been absolutely incredible."
Bright and early at 7 a.m., the Chamber of Commerce in Bedford hosted a breakfast in Dell's honor, where she spoke to area business leaders. All the proceeds from the event benefited the travel expenses Dell encountered to make the trip to the area.
"I came here from Boston, so I really appreciate that and what they did for me," Dell said.
From there, Dell visited a local business and made a few stops to speak to the students in the Everett Area School District. She met the high school staff and participated in a tailgate party prior to Everett's football game.
She also did a meet-and-greet with the locals.
The day was filled with speeches, autographs and pictures - including signing during the entire first half of the Warriors' 32-6 win over West Branch - but none of it seemed to bother the former Everett track star and marching band member.
"I had a busy day, but you will never hear me complain," Dell said. "Any time I got tired or my voice got hoarse, it's because I am meeting people who are proud to congratulate me, and I would never complain about that."
During pregame ceremonies Friday night, Everett presented Dell with a personalized plaque decorated with the Olympic rings and gave her a jacket to remind her of her roots.
She even was the honorary coin flipper.
"I really appreciated the plaque because you'd think we'd get a lot of things that are personalized, but we don't," Dell said. "I think I botched the coin flip, though."
That may have been the only hitch in her day.
But showing true humility, Dell returned the favor and gave back to her alma mater.
"I gave them a piece of my Opening Ceremonies gear from the Olympics - my Opening Ceremonies hat - so I'd like them to keep that in the high school as piece of the Olympics," she said.
Dell, who will be moving to San Francisco, was really glad she made the trip back to her stomping grounds.
"The great thing about Everett is - the reception today was wonderful, but the people here have been supportive of me long before I was an Olympian. I am very loyal to the folks that have been loyal to me long before I ever showed promise.
"The reception today was great, but the reception the past eight years in our county is what matters the most."