Family, Firefighters Celebrate Ohioan's Silver Medal

MARK WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer

GRANVILLE, Ohio (AP) - When it became apparent that Lea Ann Parsley had a firm grip on a silver medal, the celebration started in Park City, Utah, and spread all the way to the sleepy hamlet that Parsley calls home.

"We probably looked a little crazy," Ruthann Parsley said by telephone from Utah shortly after her daughter had finished second Wednesday in the women's skeleton at the Winter Olympics. "We were waving our flags and ringing our cowbells and hugging each other. It was just pandemonium."

Parsley finished one-tenth of second behind teammate Tristan Gale. After Gale crossed the finish line, Parsley (pictured with Gale, above) jumped on her and the two rolled around on the track.

"I was as psyched for her as I was for myself," Parsley said.

Not everyone celebrated right away.

Some of Parsley's fellow firefighters in Granville didn't want to know until the race was shown on TV late Wednesday night.

"I've had my ears closed all day," said Lt. Bob Otter.

Many others couldn't wait. The result was announced at Granville High School and was met with cheers.

"The word just started flying around town that she had won the silver and everybody was just as happy as they could be," Ruthann Parsley said.

Lea Ann Parsley, 33, has been a volunteer firefighter in Granville for 17 years. She also works as a nurse and has fought wildfires across the country.

Her fellow firefighters hung a sign outside the station that said "Congratulations Lea Ann, 2002 Skeleton Team" in red and blue letters.

They also moved couches and chairs out into the garage where they normally keep their firetrucks and equipment and wheeled in two big televisions so they and visitors could watch the race later in the evening.

A table filled with pizza, meatballs and chips was placed near four other tables decorated with a white paper tableclothes and red streamers where people could sit and watch the event.

People walking in to the firehouse or by the garage were met with signs that said, "If you know the results of the race, keep it to yourself."

Keeping the results a secret was no easy task.

Some of the firefighters already knew, while others snuck a peek as one of the TV stations showed the results during a newscast.

"We would like to see it happen ... the rip and roar of it all," said Ron Mack, 64, the department's retired chief, who chose to wait on the results. "If she wins, that's great."

Otter said he hoped to wait before finding out how Parsley did.

"I'm going to wait until tonight. What's a couple of more hours?" he said.

"I've just got this feeling that she's in pretty good shape."

Two other firefighters back home admitted that they knew how she had done, but were willing to keep the cat in the bag.

"I'm not saying a thing," said Maggee Thomas, 22, a student at Denison University, which is in Granville.

No matter the results, firefighters said they were happy that Parsley was just in the Olympics.

"She's a great representative to this community, her family and to this country," said Scott McFarland, 45, a volunteer firefighter who has known her since she was small.

Parsley moved up the skeleton rankings quickly after taking up the sport in 1998. Her medal came as the event returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1948.

Besides being a volunteer in Granville, she works as a nurse in Columbus, has fought wildfires across the country and was the Ohio State Firefighters Association's firefighter of the year in 1999.

She was decorated for her work on Feb. 15, 1999, when she helped rescue a woman and her 14-year-old wheelchair-bound daughter from their burning mobile home in Licking County, east of Columbus.

Parsley's mother realized her daughter had locked up a medal when she saw the final scores on a giant scoreboard next to the track.

Ruthann Parsley said she wasn't able to talk to her daughter, but they did see each other across the massive crowd.

"I caught her eye," Parsley's mother said. "The crowd was so loud, everyone yelling at the athletes. I caught her eye and we couldn't look at each other for very long because we'd both start crying."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)