From time to time, Emily Regan would take a look at her gold medal. Just to make sure it was still there. Just to confirm it was real.
Regan had won three World Championship gold medals as part of the famed U.S. Women's Rowing Eight boat. But this was her first Olympics.
"Is it ever going to sink in?" Regan asked. "I mean I think it has sunk in but it's just so different from a normal world championship for the achievement."
The competition was more intense and the post-race public awareness greater after winning gold in Rio. The new level of attention included throwing out the first pitch at Coca-Cola Field Wednesday night before the Buffalo Bisons' faced the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
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She was a little disappointed her throw was outside, but Regan had just arrived back in Buffalo early Wednesday morning after her Olympic experience and a U.S. Rowing media tour. And for Regan, a graduate of Nichols and Michigan State, there's no place more comforting, or supportive, than Western New York.
"It's been awesome, obviously. Buffalo is an amazing community," Regan said. "I'm fortunate to have an amazing family. The support I've had from everybody just means the world to me because I wouldn't be here without them also sacrificing their life because I have a very inflexible schedule. Then people I haven't heard from just reaching out. I got home and my mom had a box of cards for me from people. It's great to hear from everybody."
As much as she had prepared for the Olympics, some things are only understood after living through it.
"Everybody brings their A game and the competition, we were told by our teammates who had been to the Olympics before that it was going to be different, it's going to be closer and it's going to be harder," Regan said. "You hear that but I don't think you can really understand it until you're at the Olympics."
But Regan was prepared. She had to be. To make the U.S. women’s eight is a fight in itself. The boat has dominated international competition and the Rio win extended its gold-medal reign to 11 straight Olympic and world championship titles, winning its third straight Olympic gold medal.
So what's it like to be part of the famed women's eight boat?
"Stressful," Regan said with a laugh. "It's stressful because you're only really a part of that boat from day you're named to the team to the day of your final at the World Championship or Olympic Games and the rest of the year you spend competing with your teammates to earn a spot in the boat. I can't imagine there's another country that has such a competitive training center and pool of athletes that they select their team from. So you spend a lot of the year being very stressed out, trying to earn a seat on the team but once you do do it, it's awesome because you know you're racing with some of the toughest, fiercest, most amazing athletes in the entire world and you have so much trust and faith in the girls you're going to the line with."
Regan is back home for her brother's wedding and will spend some time in Western New York and attending a number of weddings. She'll visit former college teammates on the West Coast and join the U.S. Olympic team when it visits the White House at the end of September.