A rousing Buffalo-style welcome, complete with balloons, American flags, pizza and chicken wings, awaited gold medalists Adam Page of Lancaster and Paul Schaus of North Tonawanda at the entrance to the public area of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport terminal late Monday afternoon.
“What are you going to say?” Kathy Flemming asked the crowd of dozens of fans, well-wishers and family members. “Wel-Come Home! Wel-Come Home! and U.S.A.! U.S.A!”
Flemming, executive director of Invision Health Foundation, which provided a grant that helped send Page, Schaus and the rest of the American sled hockey team to the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, now was helping organize the hoopla to welcome them back home.
“I just wish we could’ve been there to see history,” said Tom Page, Adam’s uncle. “My wife, Christine, and I went to Vancouver and saw him win there.”
“I bet him that if they brought home the gold medal, I’d show up in a Statue of Liberty singlet,” their daughter, Erica, said.
“I lost,” she added, opening her shirt to show Lady Liberty’s face.
“But actually, you won,” her father said.
“He gets around,” Tom Page said of his nephew, who was born with spina bifida. “That doesn’t stop him. He’s got braces and crutches and he actually drives a vehicle. It’s amazing what he’s been able to do.”
“All right, everyone,” Flemming announced. “The plane landed five minutes ago. Let’s keep the tunnel open.”
A steady stream of passengers from the Washington, D.C., flight passed through the tunnel, but for what seemed like forever, there was no Page or Schaus.
“Omigosh, this is crazy exciting,” said Jodie Buckley, of North Tonawanda, a cousin of the Schaus family, who came with her four children. “I think this is the most exciting thing that has happened in my life. You can have a million kids, but how often does one win a gold medal?”
“We saw it live in person,” said Cynthia Schaus, Paul’s mother, who went to Sochi with her sister, Sharon Yell, and just got back Sunday night. “It was the experience of a lifetime.”
And then, as Page and Schaus finally appeared wearing their gold medals on blue ribbons around their necks, the crowd broke into its chant. “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
The cousins crowded around Schaus, hugging him. A Marine who lost his legs in Afghanistan in 2009, he smiled and posed for scores of snapshots.
“Josh, you look a little starstruck,” Eunice Reinhold of Hamburg told her son as he sat in a wheelchair beside Schaus. Josh Reinhold, 19, who suffered a stroke when he was 18 months old, was wearing a jersey autographed by the entire American sled hockey team. Schaus put the gold medal around the teen fan’s neck.
“He’s on the sled hockey junior team,” she said. “They all Facebook and email these guys. These are their heroes.”