By GARY CHIGWIDDEN
The Byron Shire last week threw its arms around its two Olympic medallists, swimmer Petria Thomas and kayaker Nathan Baggaley and it's an embrace that will be long remembered.
A huge crowd turned out on a warm day at Mullumbimby on Thursday to give the pair a magnificent welcome home.
The shire's third Athens Olympian, David Rhodes, also a kayaker, was unable to make it and tendered his apologies.
Well wishers, many of them waving Australian flags, cheered as Petria and Nathan made their way down Burringbar Street in golf buggies.
Joining them in the parade were members of the Mullumbimby Giants rugby league premiership winning team and other local sports stars, including Adam Szelak and Liam Bruce.
On a huge stage erected in front of the Byron Council chambers, Mullumbimby High school acting principal, Ray Linabury, welcomed the two champions - and also Byron Bay artist, John Dahlsen, whose works were part of an exhibiton in Athens held in assocation with the games.
Michael Pelmore sang a tribute song for Nathan, Gloria Saunders recited a poem she had written for Petria and local school singers and musicians did their bit as well.
There were speakers of course. There are always speakers. Without exception, all were glowing in their praise of our Olympians for their courage and determination.
And on a lighter note, the big crowd was delighted when Ray Linabury conducted a This is Your Life-style segment for Petria.
It gave her family, including mum and day, Alan and Denise and sister Stacey, a chance to throw a bit of light on Petria's early life at Mullumbimby.
Many others also joined the fun.
In what was almost an Olympic-type performance in itself, Petria that night attended a dinner at the Byron Bay Beach Club and a breakfast in her honour at the Byron Bay Community Centre the next morning put on by the Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Through it all, Petria demonstrated a style and grace befitting a triple gold medallist and befitting a shy country girl who eventually made it to the top through sheer grit and determination - and a bit of talent as well.
Her home may be now in Canberra, but Mullumbimby and the Byron Shire - will always claim her as theirs. Their Olympic champion.
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