By Loni Ingraham
4:39 PM EDT, October 8, 2008
It was the kindness that Michael Phelps extended to her father four years ago that drew Frani Hahn to the Parade of Gold honoring Maryland's Olympic heroes Oct. 4.
Hahn, who owns a beauty salon in Towson, is sure Michael Phelps wouldn't remember, but she has never forgotten.
She was there because her father couldn't be there, Hahn said.
Her father's name was Michael Nedeloff. He was a former swimmer whose diabetes would make him an amputee by the time he was 93 and living at Stella Maris in 2004. He was glued to the television set when Phelps won his gold medals during the Olympics in Athens, she said. He kept a scrapbook about Michael.
After the Olympics that year she and her daughter Nikki picked her father up one day and wouldn't tell him where they were going.
Outside Towson Commons, through the kindness of a stranger who had noticed her father's age and difficulty in getting around, they were whisked to the head of a long, long line and found themselves in front of a table -- where none other than Michael Phelps was sitting there, signing autographs.
Her father was overwhelmed, Hahn said. His eyes welled up, and he was tongue-tied. Finally he mumbled, "I'm so proud to meet you."
"No sir," said Michael Phelps, standing up and looking slightly embarrassed. "I'm honored to meet you."
It just made her father's day.
Her father died the following year. "He just loved Michael Phelps," said Hahn. "When I saw Mrs. Phelps in the parade, I wished I could have told her what my dad said about her raising a nice boy."
Hahn was just one of the 30,000- 40,000 Phelps Phans -- as the Tshirts some of them wore proclaimed, who lined York Road from Burke Avenue to Windwood Road to cheer as "Magniphicent Michael" passed by in a Humvee near the end of the 40-minute parade.
Teenage girls surged forward screaming despite the efforts of volunteers to keep them back.
"It was like a rock concert," said Towson Chamber of Commerce volunteer Nancy Hafford. "We had 60 volunteers, but 300 wouldn't have made a difference."
Phelps reportedly was flashed. A young woman with a pony tail lifted her shirt as he came into view and revealed what she had written on her belly: "Michael, I want your baby -- here."
The event drew families as well as prospective mates for Phelps.
Churchville resident Eric Hoene, 9, who came with his father, Jeff, stayed intently focused on getting a picture of Phelps "because he inspires me to swim," Eric said.
But Phelps had competition. Batman, with his Batmobile, was in the parade, which fascinated 4-year-old Dillon Kamenetz, who was in the arms of his father, Kevin, chairman of the County Council, just before the parade.
But his 7-year-old brother Karson, who was trailing behind them, assured him, spacing his words emphatically as if he had said it before, "He... is... not... real."
Meanwhile, Phelps' former teachers -- Barbara Kines, Terry Stoll and Joni Auburn from Rodgers Forge Elementary School -- rode in the parade in a show of support.
"We've been following him since he was in our classes," Kines said.
Former Towson High School faculty member Gerry Brewster, now a family friend. also rode in the parade.
"Nothing makes teachers prouder than to see their student achieve great things," Brewster said.