When Nolensville's Bethany Stineman returned home earlier this month from Orlando, she and her family discovered a sweet surprise.
The local fire and police departments escorted them on their drive through the town and on to Summerlyn Drive where family, friends, neighbors and even staff of local schools lined the subdivision's main street.
They cheered for Stineman's huge victory at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. She won not one, but two gold medals.
Stineman stepped out of her car, shocked.
"I wasn't expecting this at all!" she told her audience of friends, family and media.
Stineman hugged almost every person among the dozens that gathered to celebrate her wins. She even placed her shiny, heavy medals in the hands of a few, letting them feel the empowering weight of achievement.
Earlier this year, Stineman became the youngest and only female competitor from Williamson County, and the first from Nolensville High, to qualify for the Special Olympics USA Games.
After years of cancellations and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her family were ecstatic to finally attend the games. They fundraised throughout the first half of 2022 in order to attend.
And when it was finally time to depart for Florida, even the Town of Nolensville and its board of commissioners honored her.
During the event, Stineman produced the best throw of the shotput competition (5.05 meters), as well as the mini-javelin (13.3 meters).
Stineman's mother, Pam Stineman, kept supporters updated on Facebook throughout the week in Orlando.
"As I started posting that she had won a gold medal, the emails started and (followers) were so happy," she said. "Then the emails started and neighbors texted me asking what time we were going to be home, so I kind of had a feeling something was up their sleeve... But I never expected this much."
Taking in the blue and white balloons, signs and human-sized, glittery cutout letters reading "Congrats Bethany!" and "USA" posted on the front lawn of her home, she asked her mother if she could use them to decorate her room and keep forever. To which, her mother of course answered 'Yes.'
"I'm overwhelmed," Pam Stineman said. "This has got to be the best neighborhood in the country."
Several other athletes qualified for and attended the Special Olympics USA Games this year from Williamson County, including Norris Peterson, Eric Wilson, Braden Jenkins, Aiden Holdaway and Matthew Drumright.
Peterson, who lives in Franklin, won two silver medals and one bronze in powerlifting, while Drumright, a Brentwood resident, won a gold medal in golf. Jenkins, a resident of Fairview, won a bronze medal as part of Tennessee's basketball team.
Anika Exum is a reporter covering Williamson County at The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network — Tennessee. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 615-347-7313 or on Twitter @aniexum. To stay updated on Williamson County news, sign up for our newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nolensville neighbors welcome Special Olympics gold medalist home