Tracking Meissner

Despite the furious clicks and reclicks on the "refresh" button of an Internet browser, it seemed to take hours for the news from Italy to flicker onto the computer screen in the office of St. Ignatius Church in Bel Air, where members of the staff were anxious to learn how parishioner Kimmie Meissner fared.

But just before 5 p.m., after the last skater had performed and news of Meissner's sixth-place finish finally showed up, they beamed with pride and clapped their hands.

She might not have medaled, they said, but the 16-year-old was coming home a winner in their eyes. "Sixth place overall - wow!" said Susan Strickroth, who coordinates the youth ministry at the Bel Air church.

While the St. Ignatius staff stayed late to track results in an office building adjacent to the brick chapel, others across Meissner's home of Harford County were finding out by sneaking into back rooms at work to catch updates from Italy or were getting phone calls from excited friends and co-workers. Meanwhile, those closest to the skater were trying desperately to stick it out until last night's televised performance. "I want to just absorb the whole thing," said Fallston High School classmate Courtney Waldhauser.

Bel Air Mayor Terence O. Hanley said he would have loved to have found out by watching the telecast last night, but "there's just too much technology," he said. Dodging computers or plugging his ears would've been futile, as seemingly everyone at Bel Air's Town Hall was following online.

The town has planned a welcome-home parade for March 3 and pushed back the start time to 4 p.m. because of phone calls from fans who were worried they wouldn't be able to attend a morning event.

"She returns as she left - down to earth, extremely talented and just a really great all-around kid," Hanley said.

In Annapolis, Harford legislators were hoping to cash their rain check after Meissner's pre-Turin visit to the General Assembly fell through. This time around, there could be extra incentive: Del. Joanne S. Parrott said she'll push Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich to declare a "Kimmie Meissner Day."

"That is a definite possibility," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Ehrlich. "That would be a bright spot in this legislative session."

Fans said Meissner's performance was impressive, and one friend suspected that Meissner was pleased as well.

Brittany Geraghty, 16, who gathered with other friends and neighbors of the Meissner family to watch the performance last night, said Tuesday that Meissner had told her before she left for Italy that her goal was to finish in the top six.

Meissner entered yesterday's performance in fifth - and in medal contention - after a strong showing Tuesday. But she slipped one spot after stumbling on both triple-triple jump combinations yesterday and afterward acknowledged that she was "a little more tense" the second time around.

Tense is how family friend and neighbor Terry Smith described her plane ride to Florida. Planned weeks ago as a business trip, Smith was in the air during the performance and was asking passengers whether they knew what happened.

When the plane landed about 7 p.m., she frantically searched her cell phone for someone who could fill her in. "I'm going crazy," she said. "My stomach's been upset all day."

Penny Erbin, an employee at a Bel Air Subway restaurant where Meissner frequently gets lunch on her way to practice in Delaware, had planned to wait. But when some co-workers in the back office said they were going to check, she couldn't resist. "I wanted to wait, but I couldn't do it. I had to know," said Erbin, 25, who has a batch of chocolate chip cookies - Meissner's favorite - oven ready for the skater each day.

Richard Lynch, owner of Buontempo Brothers Italian Restaurant in Bel Air, where fans had gathered again to see Kimmie on TV, said he avoided finding out until her tape-delayed performance aired about 11:30 p.m. The crowd of several dozen gasped at her slips on two jumps, he said. "All the air left the room at the same time."

Still, he added, "It was fantastic."

At St. Ignatius, the tension from waiting had staff throughout the spacious building gravitating toward the corner office of Carol Lehr, who edits the church newsletter. They crowded around her desk, getting their hopes up each time the Web page reloaded.

"Refresh it again, maybe it'll go through them quicker!" said Cathy Drumgoole, an administrative assistant. Drumgoole was supposed to buy tires for her car after work but couldn't leave the office until she found out how Meissner had performed.

With each passing skater, the group got increasingly fidgety. Then, the screen showed, it was Meissner's turn. "Oh, God bless her. Everybody say a prayer," Drumgoole said. "I just want her to do well."

When the final scores appeared, they scanned the page to find her place, and then broke into cheers.

Strickroth said Meissner has been an inspiration throughout her Olympic quest and hopes she'll be able to speak to the church youth group. That is, once her life gets back to normal.


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