USA-themed streamers and balloons decorated Rockville’s Soulfull Café on Tuesday. Not for an early Fourth of July celebration, but rather a homecoming for Ashley Thompson, who won three medals at the Special Olympics World Games June 17 to 24 in Berlin.
Thompson, 36, is a resident of Main Street, an inclusive living community with a quarter of apartments designed for adults with disabilities in Rockville. At Tuesday’s celebration, she proudly displayed her silver and bronze medals in kayaking for her friends and neighbors to admire.
At the World Games, Thompson won one silver medal in the 200-solo race and two bronzes – one in the 200-tandem race and one in the 500-solo race.
“How heavy is it?” one of Thompson’s friends asked, before posing for a picture with the guest of honor.
“You’re like a local celebrity!” a Main Street staffer exclaimed. Main Street’s founder and executive director, Jillian Copeland, owns MoCo360 Media with her husband, Scott.
Thompson, however, was not letting this fame get to her head. She had a long list of people to thank for her accomplishments, including the Special Olympics, her coaches and her friends.
“This is a wonderful and exciting experience to just be able to come back and enjoy everybody coming together as one,” Thompson said.
Thompson spent the past 20 years training in kayaking after her coach encouraged her to try it when she was 16 years old. She kayaked at the Maryland State Games last August, where she won three gold medals. She’s been part of the Special Olympics for 25 years, in different sports from alpine skiing to soccer.
For a sport that requires the intense self-discipline of kayaking, Thompson says she’s “very competitive, like focus-wise, very on the go.”
Thompson had 22 family members supporting her in Berlin, which she called “the experience of a lifetime.”
The Special Olympics World Games welcomed athletes from around 190 countries to compete in 26 different sports. Thompson’s mother, Holly, said the athletes’ days were filled with programming on top of competition.
“There were tons [of activities], literally from sunrise to past sunset, they had dance parties almost every night,” Holly Thompson said.
One important family member was not able to attend the festivities in Berlin: Thompson’s service dog, Brownie.
“This was the first time Ashley’s left Brownie in eight years, since she’s had her,” Thompson’s mom said. Luckily, Thompson’s homecoming meant a reunion with Brownie, along with her community at Main Street.
Thompson was one of the first residents of Main Street and has lived there for more than two and a half years.
“She’s just an incredible person and incredible friend and we are so lucky that she is our neighbor and a member of this community,” said Stacey Watson, Main Street’s Director of Member Experience.
Watson said Thompson was having a great time catching up with her friends, who all had questions about what it’s like to be an Olympian.
“Every parent wants their young adults to grow up and have their own community,” Thompson’s mother said, “she’s got her own community living here [at Main Street] and then she’s got a community for her sports, the Special Olympics. She’s very lucky, we’re all very lucky.”