London's Hometown Heroes: Jamie Gray
Jamie Gray celebrates with her gold medal after winning 50m rifle gold on Aug. 4, 2012
| Gray shows off her medal in Lebanon, Pa.
LEBANON, Pa. -- Jamie Gray returned to her hometown to discover she’s been featured in the newspaper practically every day for the past two weeks.
“I don’t know what else they can say,” Gray said. “It’s really just one story.”
But that one story – about Gray winning an Olympic gold medal, believed to be the first from this area to do so – isn’t going away anytime soon. Gray, who won the gold medal in the 50-meter 3 positions shooting event at the London 2012 Olympic Games, was again front-page news after being the featured guest of a homecoming ceremony Tuesday outside the Lebanon Municipal Building.
The day began cloudy and rainy but turned sunny just moments before the celebration, almost as if on cue. Many of the several hundred fans in the crowd were wearing red, white and blue, and flags were given out moments before the ceremony began.
Several dignitaries, ranging from local, county and state representatives to school board members to folks from the Palmyra Sportsmen Club, where Gray spent hundreds of hours honing her shooting skills, feted Gray with certificates, warm praise and an invitation to cruise in a convertible for the holiday parade in November.
In addition, Gray was given the flag that was flown outside the Pennsylvania capital building on the day she competed in London, and Aug. 14, 2012, was declared “Jamie Lynn Gray Day.”
Also honored was U.S. Olympic field hockey goalkeeper, Amy Tran-Swensen, who graduated from Northern Lebanon High School. Tran-Swensen stayed in London to attend the Closing Ceremony and could not attend the hometown celebration but her mother, Susan Tran, was there on her behalf, and Tran-Swensen’s grandmother also was in the crowd. Tran-Swensen’s high school coach, Bonnie Bicksler, was one of the guest speakers.
Over and over during the hour-long ceremony, there was one mantra. Everyone kept saying they weren’t just proud of their hometown Olympians; they were “Lebanon Proud.”
“This is the best hometown to be from,” said Gray, who was born and raised in Lebanon, Pa., a town of about 25,000. “It’s awesome to be able to stand up here and have this much support.”
Growing up, Gray was known as Jamie Beyerle (pronounce Buy-er-lee), her maiden name, and she competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games as such. Her parents, Karen and Rod Beyerle, are Lebanon natives and continue to live in town. But Jamie, who was married in September, lives with her husband, Hank, in Alabama. He is in the U.S. Army and is based at Fort Benning, Ga., and she trains with the U.S. Army’s Marksmanship Program at the base.
Still, home is Pennsylvania.
And she wanted to share her good fortune with people from her hometown. Following the ceremony, Gray signed flags and newspaper articles for fans and let anyone who asked touch her gold medal or photograph it.
“You think about what that medal actually means,” said Gray, sporting a navy blue Team USA jacket, a white skirt, red toe nail polish and official Olympic flip flops. “This isn't just my medal, this is Team USA's medal," she said. “We are always in a race with China to bring home the most medals, to bring home the most gold. It's an honor to be in that race.”
Most important to Gray was her interaction with children. Gray, who began shooting BB guns when she was 5, hoped she could inspire kids to pursue their dreams. Often when she autographed items for kids, she wrote, “Hard work always pays off,” and she encouraged “the young folks in the crowd” to listen to their coaches and teachers. She graduated with honors from Cedar Crest High School, and clearly learned a thing or two about shooting from her coaches.
“Those guys actually know stuff,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t thank those people enough.”
Gray is planning on attending an event at the Palmyra Sportsmen Club this weekend to help promote the sport of shooting and the place where she established her skills. Her father is the general manager of the club. Skip Klinger, the president of the club, has known Jamie for about 15 years.“We always believed she could reach this level because she’s so dedicated and focused on reaching her goals,” Klinger said. “And I believe Jamie’s led the way for some of our youth to become world champions and Olympians.”
Gray just missed out on winning medals in Beijing, finishing fourth in the air rifle event and fifth in the 50-meter 3 positions event. In London, she set an Olympic record total in the 50-meter 3 positions with 691.9 points, including an astounding 10.8 on her final shot (10.9 is the highest score). She placed fifth in the 10-meter air rifle.
Many in the crowd, including the state and local legislators, had never been in the company of an Olympic gold medalist.
Heather Church, who has lived in Lebanon for about 20 years, attended the ceremony with her 6-year-old son, Indy, and his 10-year-old friend Rahma Desouky. They were glued to the TV during the Games and were able to catch coverage of Gray’s events.
Now Indy has hopes of competing in the Games one day.
“I want to compete in a lot of stuff,” he said. “Like gymnastics, swimming, diving, trampoline, skiing or fencing.”
Originally from New York City, Church said she was excited to have an Olympic champion in a small town.
“It’s totally different in New York,” she said. “There, it’s not quite as exciting, celebrities are everywhere. I once saw Darryl Strawberry in the airport. Here, it’s more exciting.”
As Bob Phillips, a Lebanon County Commissioner put it: "This is just such a Norman Rockwell moment for us.”
Since so many people have asked Gray what it’s like to be on the top of the Olympic podium, with the national anthem playing and the American flag rising in her honor, she did her best to describe the moment, saying, “It’s something you can’t imagine feeling, and I had the privilege to feel it.”
Gray said she wants to try to relive that emotion four years from now at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She and Kim Rhode, a five-time Olympic shooting medalist who has competed in five Olympic Games, were roommates in the Olympic Village in London. Gray said when Rhode won the gold medal in these Games, it made her hungry to win one herself. And seeing Rhode continue to return to the Olympic Games every four years has inspired Gray to do the same.
“I think it’s contagious,” Gray’s father, Rod, said. “I think she’ll fight even harder now. Once you get a taste of it, you want to taste it again.”
So a word of advice to the news media of Lebanon: This story is just beginning.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.