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Anna Patrick | The Charleston Gazette | August 18, 2016

Gold medalist Ginny Thrasher tries to ease into normal life at WVU

  Ginny Thrasher began her sophomore year on Wednesday, just two weeks after winning gold in Rio.

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Ginny Thrasher didn't wear her gold medal to physics class on Wednesday.

She kept it at home, made sure it was safe.

Thrasher has had to sport it around enough to interviews, like her appearance on NBC, talking with Dan Patrick, or to news conferences, like the one that was held Wednesday afternoon at West Virginia University, to mark the Olympic athlete's return to campus.

And besides, she doesn't need to wear the medal to get noticed. Thousands of Thrasher's fellow WVU students already know what the blonde-haired, often grinning 19-year-old looks like. She filled their Facebook news feeds on Aug. 6, when she became the first athlete to win a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

MORE: NCAA medal tracker | Full NCAA in Rio coverage

And if she hasn't already reached celebrity status among her peers, Thrasher walking around the Morgantown campus with an ESPN film crew on the first day of school almost certainly sealed the deal.

"I think I would have gotten bombarded if I wore the medal to class," Thrasher said in the Wednesday news conference.

She was calm discussing her new fame. It's just part of being an elite athlete, Thrasher said.

"I may not want the media around me all of the time," she said, "but that's par for the course."

Thrasher, a native of Springfield, Virginia, didn't find the sport until five years ago. A hunting trip with her family sparked her interest. She joined WVU's highly successful rifle team in the fall of 2015, becoming the first freshman to win both NCAA rifle titles in smallbore and air rifle, according to the NCAA's website. She also helped her team secure its fourth straight NCAA championship, 18th championship overall.

As the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic rifle team, she wasn't favored to win the women's 10-meter air rifle competition. She had to face off against veteran Olympic gold medalists, like China's Du Li.

But she remained calm. Focused on her breathing. And shot her way to an Olympic gold.

"The fact that Ginny's medal was the very first medal of the games ... the extra attention it brought was just incredible," Thrasher's coach Jon Hammond said.

If the women's 10-meter air rifle competition would have occurred on any other day, Hammond said -- like when Michael Phelps won his 20th gold in the men's 200-meter butterfly or when Simone Biles eased to first place in the gymnastic women's individual all-around -- the television broadcasters might have said "By the way, this shooter won a medal today."

But that didn't happen.

Instead, Thrasher's win over Du in the women's 10-meter air rifle competition earned her not only national, but international media attention.

It's thrown Thrasher into what she calls her "managing victory tour." She had barely any time to chat with her family, Hammond said, before being thrown into interviews and TV appearances. And she's had little time to respond to the overwhelming text messages and Facebook messages she received since her win.

"I'm still kind of putting myself back together and hopefully I'll get to that soon," she said of responding to her friend's congratulatory messages.

With the gold medal slung around her neck in Wednesday's press conference, Thrasher said her hardware doesn't change a thing.

"My goal has always been to be the best shooter I can be. ... And that doesn't change no matter how many medals or what color the medals or where you get the medals."

If anything, it just makes her want to get to back to work, back to a normal routine.

Thrasher's "normal" means following a strict student-athlete schedule. It means going to class from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then training with her rifle teammates from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It means exercising every day, eating dinner with her team, and trying to save some energy for homework before going to bed at 10 p.m. sharp.

Thrasher departed Rio Monday, suffered food poisoning during her long flight -- she blames some pasta from Rio's airport -- and jumped in a car Tuesday after landing in Washington D.C. She headed straight for her house in Morgantown, where her rifle teammates were waiting.

They brought a ton of food to celebrate, but Thrasher still was too sick to enjoy it.

By Wednesday's news conference, Thrasher said in terms of her health, she's starting to feel like herself again. And she's hoping that after the ESPN crews leave and the calls stop coming in that she'll transition back into her usual school days.

"That's why I was really excited to come back to college," Thrasher said. "This is my comfort zone. This is where I can get back to normalcy and routine."

This article was written by Anna Patrick from The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.