Olympian welcomed back like a champion at Libertyville High
Just days after returning from competition at the Rio Olympics, rhythmic gymnast Laura Zeng received a champion's welcome Thursday morning at Libertyville High School.
Zeng, a Libertyville junior, was escorted through the halls by a drum line and supporters. Students and teachers, some waving American flags, lined the hallways to cheer her on.
Zeng was overwhelmed by the procession, which was planned without her knowledge.
"It's quite the day back," said Zeng, 16. "It's not every day you get your own parade."
Zeng finished 11th in her event, individual rhythmic gymnastics. She knew her classmates, teachers and administrators were cheering for her back home.
"I was so grateful to be competing there, to represent my country and to represent LHS," she said. "Knowing they were watching, I was performing a little bit for them."
Zeng wore her Team USA jacket and athletic clothes as she marched through the school. She clutched a small plush version of the Rio Olympics mascot, a brightly colored creature called Vinícius.
"I bought it when I was in the airport," she said. "I thought I needed it."
Before and after the procession, Zeng posed for photos with students, teachers and other officials.
She took quite a few selfies, too, smiling wide in front of a congratulatory banner being carried by other Libertyville High students.
Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea was among the administrators who praised Zeng for her Olympic performance. He called Zeng a great role model for her classmates and high school students everywhere.
"Laura is not only a phenomenal athlete but a phenomenal student, and she's been able to balance all that and still be the great kid that she is," Lea said.
Although Zeng was disappointed she didn't medal in Rio, she said she's looking forward to competing in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"I did my job, and I know I'm going to go to Tokyo," she said.