Evan Strong was given a heros welcome in Nevada City on Tuesday evening as hundreds gathered to celebrate his gold medal win at the Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Strong, 27, earned the gold medal last month in the para-snowboard cross competition at his first-ever Paralympic Games. He was raised in Maui, Hawaii, but moved to Nevada City in 2009, a short distance from his training ground at Lake Tahoe area ski resorts.
Clad in his U.S. Olympic Team-issue uniform a red, white and blue sweater made by Ralph Lauren Strong joked and took questions from the crowd of 250 gathered at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in the old mining town.
Flowers were blooming you could work on your tan, Strong said of Sochis weather, explaining that the melting snow posed a significant challenge for athletes.
But more importantly, Strong told the audience about his struggles as a paralympian and the support network that has helped him through the tough times. From a young age, Strong had always been active in board sports, surfing and skateboarding in Maui. However, his left leg was amputated below the knee after a motorcycle accident at age 17.
It was a long recovery, Strong said in an interview before the event. It took me a solid two years to feel comfortable in my prosthetics and to start riding my skateboard.
He moved to Truckee in 2007 and began aggressively pursuing snowboarding, taking a job at a ski resort.
I immersed my life into the ski culture, he said. I taught myself how to snowboard I definitely fell a few times at first.
Organizers of Tuesdays event had initially planned a parade through the town, but canceled it at the last minute due to rain. Local dignitaries honored Strong for his accomplishments. Nevada City Mayor Sally Harris declared April 1 Evan Strong Day.
Onstage, Harris and others lauded Strong for his resolve, adding that he was an inspiration to all. The crowd could hardly hold back its enthusiasm, frequently interrupting Strong during his answers with loud applause and cheers.
Before the celebration, guests had the opportunity to sample natural foods, of which Strong is a big proponent. He and his family own The Fix restaurant, a natural and organic food joint in Nevada City. The tables were also dotted with organic pineapples, a nod to Strongs Hawaiian past.
The Winter Paralympic Games took place March 7-16 in Sochi, after the Winter Olympics concluded there in February.
Tuesdays celebrations were the result of two weeks of planning by a 15-member organizing committee, comprising local officials, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and other community members. They expect to raise a few thousand dollars from a raffle and silent auction to benefit groups that help people with disabilities.
What we like to do in Nevada City is throw a parade and party and were pretty good at it, too, Harris said.
Strongs win caught the attention of Wheaties, which last month announced that it was making Strong the first elite para-athlete to appear on its cereal box.
Some residents, such as insurance agent Grayson Davenport, had no idea an Olympian was living among them. Davenport showed up after hearing about Strongs story.
Hes an Olympian. He deserves all the respect, Davenport said.
Today, Strong is expected to leave for his next journey a White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
Call The Bees Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.