Beth Riggle's luggage weighed more coming back from Athens, Greece, than it had when she left Toledo a couple weeks ago, heading to the Paralympic Games.
Riggle brought back souvenirs and memorabilia from her first overseas trip - oh yes, and gold and bronze medals she won in the swimming competition at the Games.
"It was so much more than what I expected," Riggle said yesterday. "I wasn't really expecting to win a medal, and to come back with two medals, including one gold, is more than what I could have asked for."
Riggle, who was honored yesterday by her teammates at the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club at St. Francis de Sales, collected her gold medal by swimming the breaststroke leg of the women's 400-meter medley relay, and the bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke.
For the gold she teamed with swimmers from Montana and California to pull of an upset - they entered the race seeded fifth.
Riggle, a 17-year-old senior at Notre Dame Academy, was born without a right hand and forearm. She made the most of her opportunities competing with and against the top physically challenged athletes from all across the globe, including more than 100 from the United States.
"It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said. "It was undescribable. It was just exhilirating."
Riggle said her bronze medal is more meaningful than the gold "because I earned that all on my own. The gold medal is still so meaningful because all four of us had to be on that night to get the medal."
In each race, Riggle was able to knock a couple seconds off her fastest times.
"It took me 2 1/2 years to drop five seconds off my time [in the 100-meter breaststroke]. Between the preliminaries, finals and relays I was able to drop 4.1 seconds off my time," she said. "It was a lot of hard work and a lot of practice, but some of it had to do with the environment.
"For some reason I was absolutely not nervous before the races. Normally I'm a basket case before the race."
Her entire trip lasted three weeks, with the actual Games being held over nine days. When Riggle wasn't in the pool practicing or competing, she spent time meeting fellow competitors from countries all over the world. She exchanged Paralympic Games pins with more than two dozen athletes.
"That really was neat to see so many people from so many different places getting along peacefully," Riggle said.
She also toured Athens, Greece's capital city, and shopped in the local shops. She saw the Parthenon; she swam in the Mediterranean Sea. Now comes the task of returning to a normal life.
"I have to get caught up on school and I'm going to swim for Notre Dame this year and hopefully make it to districts."
Whether she does or not, she'll always have at least two reminders of a spectacular overseas adventure.
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