NEW ULM - After an extended stay in Europe that involved wrestling at the London Olympics on Aug. 9, New Ulm native Ali Bernard finally returned home on Sunday night.
She didn't have much time to shake off her jet lag before the city officially welcomed her. A group of more than 100 people gathered at Turner Hall on Monday afternoon to offer congratulations to the two-time Olympian.
"I couldn't ask for a better city to come home to; the support is unparalleled," Bernard said to the crowd.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm native and two-time Olympian Ali Bernard talks with Alex Groebner, 7, of New Ulm, after signing an autograph for her during a welcome home celebration in Bernard’s honor Monday at Turner Hall in New Ulm.
New Ulm Mayor Bob Beussman took a few minutes to formally offer his congratulations with a small presentation, bestowing Bernard with small tokens to signify her achievement. The event focused on Bernard taking turns meeting with those who had come to show their support.
"It's great to have the support, I couldn't ask for any other community to give me this type of support," Bernard said. "It's unparalleled, it's a great experience and it's really heart-warming. ... I've had great support from Day 1 starting in grade six when I started wrestling - it's not people just jumping on the bandwagon, these people have been supportive the whole way through, and it's been great."
Beussman noted that although there wasn't a lot of money spent on advertising the homecoming, once word of mouth got out there weren't any worries about people showing up.
"I think it's fantastic," Beussman said. "Of course we always like to celebrate, but to have a two-time Olympian, there are very, very few communities that have that opportunity to say, 'We have a two-time Olympian.' Win, lose, draw, whatever it is, no-one can take away the fact that Ali Bernard is a two-time Olympian from little New Ulm, Minnesota. New Ulm is little compared to some of the other places where these Olympic athletes are coming from, but New Ulm's a big town, we've got a big heart, and it's a perfect time to get together and celebrate and just to let her know that we've been behind her all the way."
The event included a number of Bernard's relatives, friends, former teammates, people involved with New Ulm wrestling and other well-wishers from the community.
"It's wonderful," said Marie Steinberg, Bernard's grandmother, who goes by 'Grandma Tutu.' "She's got a lot of support, and she's earned it, she's worked so hard. I'm really proud of her."
Although Steinberg wasn't able to make the trip to London, she has been a big supporter of Bernard throughout her wrestling career.
"I've watched her for 15 years, and my hair didn't turn white for nothing," Steinberg said.
Bernard's parents - Rocky and Sue - as well as siblings Angie, Annie, Abby, Andy and their significant others all made the trip to London, in addition to Bernard's uncle and some "Ali Cats," as her fans are known.
"It's absolutely great - it's hard to explain when you have one of your children do something like this," Rocky Bernard said of the experience of watching Ali at the Olympics. "If you think about it, there's only 500 Olympians in the whole United States, and one of them's mine."
Former teammate Seth Schaefer was among those to make the trip to London to watch Bernard.
"It makes the Olympics more real," Schaefer said. "Usually it's so far off and distant, but when you actually know someone that's in it, it brings it closer to you."
Although Bernard's future with the sport is undecided, Schaefer is among those who wished her well no matter what she ends up doing next.
"I wish her the best in whatever endeavor she may take up," Schaefer said. "She's put a lot of time into wrestling since high school, she's put in time and effort. I don't know if she's going to go any further and keep on training or if this is it. She's devoted a lot of her life to it."
Bernard plans to take some time off before deciding her next step.
"I'm just going to hang out for a bit and see what happens," Bernard said. "Eventually I want to go into coaching, but as far as if I'm done wrestling, I'm not sure. I'm 26, so it's probably that point in my life where I need to decide, but right now I'm just relaxing."