Family and friends of a 17-year-old swimmer and Brooklyn native gathered Saturday to watch the hometown hero nab a bronze medal in the London summer Olympics. NY1's Mara Montalbano filed the following report.
Lia Neal, 17, of Brooklyn isn't even out of high school yet, but she's already an accomplished swimmer having earned a bronze medal in the women's 4x100 meter freestyle relay in London.
Supporters gathered at a viewing party in Marine Park to watch their hometown girl compete.
"It's so wonderful. She's in it, she became a part of the competition, and she made it to the end," said one supporter.
"It's wonderful. Still perfect. She may have not gotten the gold but she still did a great job. She did a great job," said another supporter.
Neal has been training on the Upper East Side at the Asphalt Green AquaCenter for nine years. She made it to the Olympic trials in 2008, but didn't quite make the team that went to Beijing. Directors at the center say she's made them proud.
"It's a dream come true for Asphalt Green," said Asphalt Green Executive Director Carol Tweedy.
Neal is part of the center's Swim for the Future Scholarship program, which aims to develop talent in athletes across all racial and economic backgrounds. In a sport usually dominated by swimmers from suburban pools across the country, directors at Asphalt Green say Neal brings a diversity to the sport that will inspire others to go for the gold.
"We've seen it already when she went to trials. Little kids around the pool saying 'I wanna be an Olympian too.' ANd I know the whole team, after she made trials and head to Europe, was just charged," Tweedy said.
"We are all so super proud of her I mean she's 17. She has a long way to go so we are definitely proud of her," said one supporter.
This was Neal's only race for the 2012 Olympic Games. She now gets to sit back and cheer on the other members of Team USA, until she comes back to what is sure to be a hero's welcome here in the city.