ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - At Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport Saturday, a crowd waited to welcome home Team Alaska and the many athletes that competed at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle this past week.
"They teach me," said Pamela Butler, a longtime volunteer for Special Olympics Alaska. "We think we're helping them? No. They're helping us, making us be better people."
Competitors in track and field, powerlifting, bocce, basketball, bowling and swimming were all greeted by friends and family eagerly awaiting the arrival of their favorite athletes, when - finally - the sound of 37 jingling medals prompted cheers from the crowd.
"I was very impressed," said Hal Lloyd, owner of Southside Strength and Fitness and a coach for Special Olympics Alaska's weightlifting crew. "I've been to national competitions in not-so-special sports - powerlifting, etc. But they were very, very well done.
"This was my first time seeing Special Olympics on that level," he said.
Everyone returning was still buzzing from the event.
"It was lots of fun," said Pamela Stevens, a Special Olympics athlete who brought home no less than four medals from the Games. "We got to go watch everybody do sports."
Their fans - including Stevens' 104-year-old grandmother Ruth - were just as excited.
"I am just as proud as can be," she said. "Just as proud as can be. But I expected that of her. She's a wonderful, wonderful girl."
Cedric Roland, II, played as a partner to Dennis Alzheimer on the basketball team that won gold in Seattle. While Alzheimer - who ran the floor as point guard - noted he played in honor of his grandparents who passed away, both he and Roland said they loved the continuing positive reactions after the games were over.
"After everybody was done being excited, everybody was still happy to be a part of it," Roland said.
The crew brought home 37 medals from the Games this past week, including 14 gold medals.