RALEIGH – If North Carolina were a country, its 30-medal harvest at this summer’s Olympics would have placed 11th, ahead of Canada, Brazil, Korea and several others of the 90 nations represented at the Games.
In total, more than 50 athletes with Old North State ties competed in Tokyo, and many more represented their country at the equally prestigious Paralympic Games.
On Tuesday, Governor Roy Cooper welcomed nine of these athletes and their families to the grounds of the Executive Mansion in Raleigh for a ceremony honoring the North Carolina Olympic and Paralympic contingent.
“The purpose of this event was to recognize them for their outstanding achievement and let them know how proud we are of them here in North Carolina,” said Cooper. “I grew up loving sports, loving playing sports and enjoying watching sports, and to be among the best in your field like these athletes have done is a remarkable achievement.
“When you think of the dedication, determination, discipline, pain and relentless effort that these athletes had to go through to be the best in the world, it’s an incredible thing. I know they have been and will continue to be successful in other parts of their lives.
Among the athletes participating in the event were Paralympic gold medalists Hannah Aspden of Raleigh and Queens University (swimming) and Emma Schieck of Statesville and UNC (sitting volleyball), and Olympic silver medalists Hannah Roberts of Holly Springs (BMX freestyle) and Tim Federowicz from Chapel. Hill and UNC (baseball).
The others were BMX freestyle rider Perris Benegas of Wilmington, sprinter Gabbi Cunningham of Charlotte and NC State, hurdler Quanera Hayes of Hope Mills and Livingstone College, hurdler David Kendziera of Chapel Hill and UNC, and swimmer. open water Ashley Twitchell of Cary and Duke.
Gold medalist sprinter Randolph Ross of NC A&T was also in attendance.
“This hometown support is unlike any other support you get anywhere else,” said Hayes, one of three American runners to advance to the women’s 400-meter hurdles final. “So it is important to me to come here and be recognized by the governor. It’s unreal to know that he saw us compete and that he’s super proud of us.
Unlike the Olympics, which took place in a bubble quarantined due to COVID-19, Tuesday’s event allowed families of athletes to share their excitement surrounded by family members.
“When you come home, that kind of ending and you’re like, ‘OK, what should I do next? “” said Kendziera. “Being here brings back some of that and allows our families to be a part of it as well.”
For Aspden, the recognition of being honored by his country of origin was particularly significant as the achievements of Paralympians do not always get the visibility they deserve. The 21-year-old, who was born with a congenital hip disarticulation and lacks a left leg, won two gold medals this summer, in the 100-meter backstroke and as a member of the USA team 4 × 100 medley relay.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Aspden, one of his medals draped proudly around his neck. “It’s an amazing feeling to meet (Cooper) and to be here on the same platform alongside these amazing Olympic athletes because Paralympic athletes are the same all the same. We all have our unique challenges, whether we are able-bodied or disabled, so being here is a giant leap not only for me, but for Paralympic athletes around the world.