The City of Laguna Beach and Mayor Jane Egly formally honored Olympic gold medalist Annika Dries at a celebration held on Saturday at the community pool.
Dozens of friends and admirers joined in to congratulate and thank Dries for her hard work on the USA 2012 Olympic women's water polo team.
***CLICK THE BOX ON THE RIGHT TO SEE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS FROM SATURDAY'S EVENT -->
Fans crowded the steps of the community pool to cheer and wave at Dries as she rode up on an antique Laguna Beach Fire Department fire truck escorted by Laguna Beach Police Department motorcycles. Then everyone gathered on the pool deck to hear Laguna Beach water polo coach Chad Beeler speak.
"Today we're here," said Beeler, "to celebrate our Olympic gold medalist ... Annika. She tried out [water polo], she loved it, and eventually learned what it would take to be really good. She tried really hard. She's smart. She did really well in school ..."
"She was a [Division 2] CIF champion in high school," said Beeler. "She goes and wins big things for Stanford, and now she brings home the gold medal to us here."
Next, Laguna Beach High School water polo coach Ethan Damato spoke.
"I'm very proud," said Damato, "to be standing up here today celebrating the accomplishments and hard work of Annika Dries."
"I couldn't think of a better ambassador," said Damato, "not only for women's water polo in Laguna Beach, but for women athletes and for all young girls who have dreams of doing something great. Annika is proof that those dreams can come true."
Damato described Annika as "special," "physically gifted as an athlete," a hard worker, "a superb perfectionist" and "incredibly smart."
Damato explained that he witnessed Dries' inner strength. During her sophomore year of high school, Dries learned that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Dries and her family "rallied around each other," and made it through that difficult time.
"Annika never skipped a beat," said Damato. "Playing with a national team that year, playing high level club water polo, doing high school swim season, jazz band and maintaining over a 4.0."
"She's one of the kindest and sweetest young women I've ever met in my life," said Damato. "She was an incredible leader on her team, a great friend to her teammates and to me as well. She is also a great daughter and has always put her family first, and I really admire that."
"Well, Annika," said Damato, "we appreciate you and everything you've done for us and for our teams. And we want you to know that we're all extremely proud of you and we thank you for everything."
Mayor Jane Egly said to Dries, "I feel like the luckiest gal in town today to be able to be here and tell you how proud all of Laguna Beach is ... you are definitely a hero."
Then Egly presented Dries with a proclamation from the City of Laguna Beach.
Egly read from the proclamation. "Growing up in Laguna Beach, Annika participated in the city's aquatic and water polo programs. And through her dedication, teamwork and support of breast cancer awareness, Annika serves as an outstanding ambassador for her home town of Laguna Beach."
To Egly and the community, Dries presented a signed Olympic game-worn cap. She also donated a signed flag from USA Olympic women's water polo.
Top of the World second-grader Charlotte Riches got to see Dries play in London.
"I thought it was really cool to see a gold medalist from the Olympics," Riches said. "She was the one who kind of recommended me and my sister to actually play water polo. It's really nice seeing her again."
Her sister, Isabel, said, "I think [this event] is really good for having more people come to the pool and for swimming and water polo ... especially girls' water polo, because it just shows that anything can happen. I dream to be an Olympian one day. You can do anything if you really work hard and set your mind to it."
By chance, the Riches family got to chat with Dries on the flight home back from the Olympics.
"We talked about our game situations," said Isabel. "It's like [Annika] is your friend. She's super laid back and she's a great person."
"To have a role model like Annika, when there are so many really frightening role models, is so valuable," said Karin Riches, mom to Charlotte and Isabel. "She is the whole package ... top student, community advocate, promotes positive body image, is a lovely friend, loves her town, wants to promote the sport, and really builds capability in the girls who worship her. It's so inspiring and so great as a mom to know that this kind of person is who my girls are looking to as a role model."
After Dries spoke, people lined up to get her autograph. About 100 people jumped into the pool to beat the heat.
The event was hosted by the City of Laguna Beach.
***HERE'S THE COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF ANNIKA DRIES' SPEECH FROM SATURDAY'S EVENT:
I'm quite nervous because I just love this town so much.
First off, it is such an honor to represent not only the United States of America but this great community. Thank you to Adam [Gufarotti] and the whole city for putting together this great event today and just getting the pool all great with all the signs out front. It was so great seeing everyone out there...Yes, a big round of applause for that, please.
And also, I know a lot of families contributed, too. It was a lot of work to get this pool ready for me. So just thank you to them [and my mom as well] for making today special.
Coming back to Laguna a few weeks ago, I truly realized how lucky I am to come from such a supportive and inspiring community. I think back to when I started playing water polo here when I was just twelve. I immediately fell in love with the sport.
But before that, I was actually involved in junior lifeguards with Chad [Beeler]. Basically, one of the first days we were out there, I'm standing out on the sand..and he says, "Oh, you have to go swim out all the way to that buoy."
And I'm just an eight or nine-year-old going, 'What? I have to swim all the way out to the deep ocean out there?"
I was pretty intimidated, but with Chad, ...you just embraced the challenge. I think that's something that I really learned from his program.
I was just starting out in this really aggressive sport and this really fun sport. But, it was a big challenge. So, thank you for teaching me that, Chad. I really appreciate it. I've had to embrace the challenge all along. So, that's been great. Thank you.
Now, once I got started, I've had a lot of people step up as mentors for me along the way. Ethan Damato has definitely been one of those people. He always brought us inspiring quotes and words. One of my favorites, and probably one of his, too, was "little things make big things happen." Of course, that's by John Wooden who's also very admired by my national team coach as well. So it's very fitting with the cohesivness of it all.
By trusting in my mentors and the words of John Wooden, I believed in all the little things...passing, drills, attention to detail in and outside the pool. By remembering all those little things, it really helped me to get to the next level.
Looking out and seeing the next generation, it's really inspiring to see you guys with your water polo balls and your suits on right now ready to jump in that pool.
The first thing I learned..embrace the challenge. Next, focus on the little things. Thank you, Ethan.
So, you've taken the challenge. You're focusing on those little things. What's the next step? For me, that was really just working hard. I truly believe that if you have a goal and you work towards it, you can get there. I can't tell you that enough.
Brad Schumacher was also a big role model. I'm not sure if he's here today. As an Olympian, he really instilled kind of this discipline, this hunger to be an Olympian. At the international level, you need to be fit, you need to have these skills. I can't tell you how many practices I wore a big weight belt and doing endless leg drills, but I knew some day, I would need those strong legs at the Olympic games...battling Australia or battling Spain.
It's really important that you can do all the little things, but you need to have that effort and discipline, too. That's one of the other things I learned from this time.
At the end of the day, what's really made this experience possible, and what's really made it such a fulfilling experience, are my teammates and being a teammate. Asking myself every day, "Is what I'm doing today in this moment going to help my team?"
Sacrificing yourself and giving into that complete trust of a team really makes all the work, all the dedication worth it. I can tell you, there's no greater feeling than standing among your teammates and remembering all the hard work, all the little things that got you to that moment.
Particularly, that moment for me was standing with my teammates in London, hearing our national anthem as our flag raised above the pool. It was just a very special moment.
But in that moment, more than just those teammates came to mind. I really just thought of all my teammates from day one. Some of them are here today. My best friend Sarah Zuziak is here in the crowd today and Lauren whom I started playing with way back in the day.
It's not just those 13 girls that were out there that made me an Olympian and made me a gold medalist. There are so many people. I can't tell you now how much it means for me to come back and share this with them, with my coaches.
Just thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share the gold and to really just embrace this moment of living the dream essentially. I'm honored to represent the community of Laguna Beach, my friends and family, the United States and I really look forward to the opportunity to embrace the challenge again and go for the gold. Thank you, guys. Thank you.