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Champaign's Katherine Reutter stops to take a photo and show off her medals with a passer by along Michigan Avenue in Chicago on March 8, 2010.
"I like being an Olympic medalist!" she said. "It took me about half a lap after I won the race, to realize, that I was an Olympic medalist."
The 21-year-old Reutter actually came home from Vancouver with two medals: a silver in the women's 1000 meter and a bronze for the 3000 meter women's relay. And as she stood on the Magnificent Mile, even jaded Chicagoans stopped dead in their tracks.
"Can I hold it?" ventured one woman, reaching out and touching the bronze disc around Reutter's neck.
"Sure," she replied. "Want to put it on?"
It quickly became clear that the landslide viewership the Olympics generated during their two week run were no illusion (190 million viewers in the United States alone). And it also became clear, that her little stroll down Michigan Avenue was going to take a while.
A picture here. A congratulatory handshake there.
Some stopped because they had never seen an Olympic medal before and didn't expect to see one on their way to work in Chicago.
Others stopped because they had watched Reutter on television, and genuinely wanted to tell her they were proud of what she had done for the USA.
"Wearing my medals, wearing the flag, I love it! It's what I worked my whole life for, just for this," she said.
But she makes clear, that she believes the honor is more than just hers alone.
"I'm the first American woman to win a medal in speedskating in 16 years. This is the first one ever won in the 1,000 meter. That's not for me. That's for the United States of America!" she said.
Reutter's story is a classic tale of the Olympic dream. The Champaign native was on skates almost as soon as she could walk. But as she tells the story, even when she was a 4-year-old figure skater, she preferred racing the other little girls in her class. And it didn't take long before she discovered the speed skates which would become her passion.
"Ever since I was 11, I knew I wanted to be a speed skater when I grew up. And I'm so happy things paid off. But I trained. I trained for what I wanted to do. And I got what I worked for," she said.
Reutter is also proud of her plans for the future. Olympic medals carry a stipend from the United States Olympic Committee, and she's promised hers to her family.
On a recent visit to Champaign, she noticed her family house had a cracked foundation and needed work.
"I asked my Mom, 'Why haven't we fixed that?' And they said they've had better things to spend their money on for the last four years."
Better things, like making sure their daughter achieved her Olympic dream.
"I'm going to take all this money, they've in essence given to me, and rebuild their house. All the commitments and things she did for me. There's nothing better I could do with my money."
"I've got my medals. This is what I've trained for. This is what I wanted to earn my entire life. So I've got what I want. And now I want to give my family, everything that they want."