Kimmie Meissner, the 16-year-old Olympic figure skater, then stepped to the podium on a stage at the Milton A. Reckford Armory in Bel Air, her voice raspy and cheeks flushed after a bout with the flu and a ruptured eardrum.
"Wow, this is crazy," she said.
Thousands lined Main Street yesterday, where Meissner, who returned home this week after a sixth-place finish at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, received a heroine's welcome as Harford County threw a parade for its favorite daughter.
She blushed and smiled as Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich called her a role model for all young women and nervously tapped her toe as the crowd thunderously responded to Republican state Del. Barry Glassman's prediction that she would win a gold medal in 2010. And she turned away in embarrassment as County Executive David R. Craig, a vice principal at Southampton Middle School when she was a pupil there, broke out an old yearbook.
"You guys have made this so special," she told the crowd. "The support of the town is unbelievable. I don't think I could've done anything without you guys."
Meissner's appearance came as she recovers from a ruptured ear drum, which her mother, Judy Meissner, said kept her out of school Wednesday and has thrown off her balance. She suffered the ruptured eardrum on her flight home from the Olympics and also had a bout with the flu during her last days in Italy.
Her fans came in all ages.
First in line for the autograph session that followed the ceremony was Helen Ryan, 69, who called her a "breath of fresh air." As Kelsey Clayton, 10, neared the autograph table, she bounced up and down with anticipation at the sight of Meissner.
Kelsey brought newspaper clippings of Meissner's Olympic exploits, which she brought out of their protective plastic sleeves and had Meissner sign. She said the signed clippings would go straight into her Kimmie scrapbook when she got home.
"I've just been really excited about her from the beginning," Kelsey said.
Meissner was expected to ride down the street in a police car but instead hopped on a Segway, the futuristic, self-balancing scooter. She received about a half-hour training session from the Bel Air Police Department, which just purchased two of the machines.
Of course, President Bush famously fell off of a Segway in 2003. Asked about the possibility of an injury with the world championships in Calgary coming up soon, Meissner's father, Paul Meissner, had to laugh.
"The president must have been having a bad day if he fell off one of those things," he said. "We were zipping around."
Bel Air hosts a popular Fourth of July parade each year and welcomed President William Howard Taft nearly a century ago.
But yesterday's parade was something special, said Mayor Terence O. Hanley. He called the community response "small-town America at its best."
No one wanted to be left out of the parade, with the guest list seemingly growing until the first car started down Main Street about 4 p.m.
Del. Joanne S. Parrott, a Republican, sat on top of a white convertible, dressed in Olympic paraphernalia and blowing kisses to the crowd as if she had won a gold medal herself. Businesses gave away "Kimmie Rocks" signs and T-shirts, and sold hot chocolate and cakes outside of their storefronts.
Before the parade started, a group of cheerleaders from Fallston High School huddled for a quick pep talk.
"Ladies, look your best, smile and be loud," said coach Lindsey Smawley, who also is Meissner's French teacher at Fallston High. "This is history."
Then the cheerleaders put their hands together and yelled: