Hundreds line up to meet Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard in Vail | SummitDaily.com

Hundreds line up to meet Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard in Vail

Two minutes past 4:30 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, a 17-year-old Pennsylvanian boarding school student met her 17-year-old Olympic snowboarding hero.

It was at that time that newly minted Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard sauntered slightly late through the side door of the Burton at Arrabelle store in Vail's Lionshead Village. And it was the 17-year-old boarding school student named Annie Vail — she goes by her middle name, in honor of the Colorado mountain town — who got to meet Gerard before any of the hundreds of others lined up outside.

Annie Vail didn't mince words about her strategy to meet the Olympic star of her same age. While her sister and friends stood outside on the line wrapped around the block — along with the more than 400 others estimated in attendance — she found an alcove among the apparel racks inside the store's confines.

Then, when she spotted the red Mountain Dew beanie and messy light brown hair of the slopestyle snowboard star Gerard walking in with a small entourage, she knew this was her moment.

"I recognized the hair and the beanie," Annie Vail said of Gerard. "I thought he would have been, like, butlered in (and say): 'No, go wait in line.' But he was like, 'Yeah, I'll take a picture with you.'

"It was really cool."

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It was exactly a year ago, at last year's Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships at Vail Mountain, when the lifelong ski and snowboard fan Annie Vail first heard of Gerard. Fewer than 12 months later, Gerard soared to instant sports celebrity status here on the U.S. homefront thanks to his thrilling gold medal victory at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea last month.

And fewer than two weeks after Gerard returned from South Korea, Annie Vail was one of hundreds of fans, young and old, who came to meet their new favorite extreme sports hero while also waxing poetic about what it was like to watch Gerard's gold medal run live.

"I was at my boarding school, the Grier School, watching NBC.com, on my computer, doing homework, but I was following the whole thing," Annie Vail said. "All the qualifiers, all the finals, refreshing my computer, and sometimes my computer would lag. So I also had Twitter constantly refreshing too. It was definitely nerve-racking."

The boarding school student Annie Vail may have come from the other side of the country to meet Red, but there were plenty of Summit County and High Country locals in attendance to see their hometown star.

There was Renate Helm of Dillon, who bought the Olympic channel just last month so she could "watch everything" Olympics related, Gerard included. When she showed up at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday — two hours before the event was set to begin — she was the fifth person in line.

"He reminded me so much of my grandson," Helm said of meeting Gerard.

Then there was 12-year-old Tieg Wachter of Edwards, an aspiring young snowboarder in his own right with the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. He described Gerard as "the person I've always dreamed of."

"He's a really big role model to me," Wachter said. "He has such great attitude, he's not cocky. He's just a great snowboarder, and he's dreamed of it his whole life. And I really admire that."

Not to be outdone, Tieg's 8-year-old brother Skogen Wachter wanted it to be known that he had a personal connection with the Olympic gold medalist.

"My middle name is Red," Skogen Wachter said.

And then there was Joyce Simpson of Leadville. Simpson looked forward to meeting Gerard so much so, that she took her grandsons out of school for the afternoon to meet him.

"I just said that I was really proud of him," Simpson said of meeting Gerard. "And, you know what, he was a real gracious boy. And very kind. So I just told him that we are really proud of him here in Colorado."

Thirty-eight minutes after she first met Red, Annie Vail got to meet her hero once again after waiting in line like everyone else. This time around, Annie Vail got the chance to show Gerard the baseball cap she was wearing, a "Cornell Big Red," cap chosen specifically for the occasion.

"I think he was a little surprised to see that I came back again," Vail said with a laugh, "but it was really cool."

As for any other takeaways from getting to meet their Olympic hero, Annie Vail, her family and friends chimed in in unison.

"He's young," the group said together. "Crazy young."