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Lia Neal: An Olympic Medalist, A Brooklyn Hero

Family, friends and neighbors talk about the lasting effect of Neal's bronze medal on a once-battered, now resilient, community.

When from the 2012 Summer Games in London in the 400 meter freestyle relay, seemingly all of Fort Greene rose up to express their pride in .

But no one could have been prouder than Lia's family, neighbors and friends—a tight-knit clan that has seen the 17-year-old's intense preparation pay off in a big, big way.

“It feels good, it’s blessed to have her back and for her to be at this level with the bronze medal. It touched a lot of people," said Rome Neal in front of the family's Fort Greene home earlier this month.

A passerby stopped Rome while he was outside of their apartment—where Lia was catching up on some needed sleep—and said he watched his neighbor take the bronze.

“It was really exciting to watch her, we all watched her,” the passerby said to Rome.

Sharon Lewis, a next door neighbor, even ordered a welcome home banner to hang on the Neal’s house. Lewis said that all of the kids on this block sandwiched between Brooklyn Navy Yard and Fort Greene Houses participated in decorating the banner.

The banner didn't just celebrate Lia's victory but what Lewis called the block's flowering after decades of neglect.

“My gosh, the thing with Lia is that she has lived on this block all her life. This block has come a long way, there used to be vacant lots all over, and now to have an Olympian who grew up here is amazing,” Lewis said.

Another neighbor, Aaron Whitby, said he let the Neals stay with his mother who lives in London while they went to watch Lia compete.

“She’s completely down to earth and is a humble superstar,” Whitby said while he stopped to talk with Rome Neal.

In the end, it was the Olympian's proud father that seemed to sum up Lia's effect on the neighborhood best.

“I feel very blessed my daughter could bring light to this neighborhood, borough and city. There’s so much darkness here with mass murders and we need hope. There’s been so much hope from TV and reading Facebook posts, everyone watched Lia win,” he said. “People said they have tears in their eyes because Lia won and that’s beautiful. It’s just a blessing to have her.”

Joe Gonzalez August 17, 2012 at 07:16 PM
ddMarie1: Its your comments that are idiotic & non-responsive to my earlier postings. That's probably why you & the other posters hide behind fake names. More to the point it is a fair comment of mine to raise the question as to what folks who turn celebrity can do to reach back and assist the masses who are still in need of help. Just imagine, for example, if some of these rappers, who take large amounts of money out of Fort Greene (from their record sales) would have open their mouths to rally the elected officials to effect change in our community. Hit Corey's name & hit the comments link to his prior postings, you see he previously posted a commentary about the importance of folks assisting those in need. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with asking the celebrity set to reach back. Have a nice weekend everybody.
Ana M. August 18, 2012 at 11:53 AM
It says she grew up in the shadow of the Fort Greene projects not in them. We can't assume she knows the woes of them. I'm not agreeing with Joe or defending Lía but have u really read her biography? She goes to a private school in the upper East Side. With all that said I'm still proud of what she accomplished. A medal for USA.
bkgal August 18, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Why does she have to who you want her to be? Why should she satisfy your wishes of what she should say and when? Have YOU tried to focus our politician's attentions on the problems you named? If you have and you did it in the random and angry manner in which you just attacked a teenage swimmer who excels at her sport and won at the Olympics I can guess how successful you've been.
Jenny August 18, 2012 at 06:12 PM
seriously, she's a kid who did great. we should all just feel good about this.
Lucien Charles August 18, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Is this Joe Gonzalez serious? This girl just won an Olympic medal. Be proud for her.

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