She vaulted her way into Bay State residents’ hearts. And now she has come home.Olympic medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman of Needham arrived at Logan International Airport Wednesday afternoon, met by dozens of journalists, family members and fans.
When Raisman stepped through the door to the terminal lobby, clad in a flowing pink collared shirt and stylish skinny jeans clinging to her bulging muscles, dozens of cameras clicked furiously as friends and fans rushed to greet her.
“It’s still a lot to take in,” she told reporters. “It will definitely take a long time until it sinks in, but I’m excited to go back to my gym tomorrow and see my teammates there.”
Her teammates from Burlington are excited, too. Talia Chiarelli and April Baker, both 17, trained with Raisman at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club for the past six years, and traveled to the airport to greet their friend because they said Raisman had asked them to be there.
“She’s our best friend and teammate,” said Baker. “It’s weird to see her on TV, doing the same thing she did in practice every day, and winning the gold for it. It’s amazing.”
“It’s surreal with all the cameras around,” Chiarelli said. “We just know her as our friend.”
Raisman also told journalists that she was thankful for her family, as her mom, dad, grandma, and siblings stood behind her, patiently waiting for their familial superstar.
“Without them, none of this would have been possible,” she said. “I’m so thankful for their love and support throughout the years.”
As Raisman donned her three medals – two gold, one bronze – to display around her neck, she laughed, describing her new accessories as “really heavy.”
“I never imagined that I would have three medals, so it means so much to me,” she said. “[This took] years of hard work and sacrifice.”
She paused, looking down at the medals she clutched in her hands. “But there’s a lot of great memories behind it,” she added. “It was obviously worth it.”
Raisman said she is still getting used to her sudden fame, adding that she especially liked meeting celebrities like Jordin Sparks and Nicki Minaj in New York City this past week during the “Fierce Five” media blitz.
“It's definitely different,” she said. “Someone let me sit in first class [on the plane] today – they traded seats with me, which was really nice. It’s little things like that.”
Other than performing, Raisman said she enjoyed the experience of being in London.
“There's been so many amazing moments,” she said. “All the girls and I were such good friends; we had so much fun together. Being able to be part of the closing ceremonies and meeting the other athletes was really cool.”
And as Raisman has seen success on the international stage, she said she hopes to encourage other aspiring gymnasts.
“I hope that we all inspired all those girls, because I used to be that little girl who watched them and wanted to be like them. I hope I can do that for someone else,” she said.
One fan and aspiring gymnast drove from Winthrop to greet her idol at the terminal, waiting for almost an hour before Raisman arrived. Francesca Vigliotta, 14, clutched a magazine outlining the London Olympic athletes, a bookmark placed carefully on the page profiling Raisman.
“I’m hoping to meet her,” Vigliotta said, standing anxiously with her mother and sister. “I want to say congratulations for all her medals.”
Vigliotta said she especially liked watching Raisman’s gravity-defying routines, and looked up to the Needham native as a role model.
“I like her all around, as a person,” Vigliotta said. “She’s outgoing and always proud of herself. She’s awesome.”
Yet as Raisman made the rounds to the friends she left behind over a month ago, hugging her gymnastics teammates and high school friends one by one, Vigliotta strived to break through the crowd for a quick photo and a signature.
“Hold on,” Raisman told her, hugging the last of her high school friends before making her way outside to the white stretch limousine waiting to take her home to Needham.
Vigliotta followed her, tears streaming silently from her eyes as she watched her idol brush her off and slip away, inconsolable by her mother. But suddenly, a man stepped out of the limo and beckoned to Vigliotta to come over to the car, which she obeyed.
Raisman stepped out of the limo quickly, pausing to take a picture and sign Vigliotta’s magazine, exchanging pleasant words with her fan. And as the world-famous gymnast slipped back into the car, finally headed home for Needham, a young aspiring gymnast smiled.