This year’s Boulder County Fair Parade returned Saturday with much fanfare — and a hometown hero.
Riding among the marching bands, horseback riders and decorated floats was Valarie Allman, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games gold medalist, who claimed victory in women’s discus. Allman’s wave on Saturday sent cheers from those watching along Longmont’s downtown streets and prompted photographs. Allman, 26, even removed the gold medal from around her neck to let at least one resident hold it.
The athlete’s presence, combined with the fact that the parade was back after a cancellation last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, made for a celebration for those who attended.
Up and down Main Street on Saturday, more than a thousand people staked out spots along the sidewalks, setting up lawn chairs and blankets to watch the parade go by. The parade is sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Longmont. It is a usual hallmark to the start of the Boulder County Fair season, which began Saturday and runs through Aug. 16. Themed “Cowboy Boots With Family Roots,” the fair was altered this year, due to the ongoing pandemic, and is made up of exhibit-only events. Those who did line up to watch the parade said they were glad to have at least one part of the fair tradition return.
For Allman, seeing her community cheer her on and show their support Saturday was moving. She rode in the back of a Kiwanis Club of Longmont truck, towing a mini-Ferris wheel. Allman is a 2013 graduate of Silver Creek High School. She said she now lives in Texas, but still has family in Longmont and comes back to visit them.
“I have such pride being from Longmont, and there are so many people that had such genuine excitement,” Allman said. “That just absolutely melted my heart.”
Allman described her victory in the Olympics and achieving the status of gold medalist as “surreal.”
“I feel like I’m just living the most amazing dream,” Allman said. “I just want to share it with as many people as I can.”
Pouring rain during her Olympic competition didn’t deter Allman’s focus as she competed.
“My coach and I knew something really magical was possible, but it’s sometimes a sliver of a difference as to whether it can go your way or not,” Allman said. “I feel so thankful that things came together.”
In addition to supporting Allman, many also gathered Saturday to show support for family and friends in the parade. Danielle Hagedorn and her son, Seth Hagedorn, 16, of Longmont, were among them.
“It’s great to be able to be out here,” Hagedorn said. “It’s a perfect day for it. It’s nice to be able to see peoples’ faces again.”
“We used to come a lot when (Seth) was littler, then he got teenagery,” she joked.
The mother and son returned this year to support Seth’s girlfriend, who was marching in the Longmont High School marching band.
Growing up participating in 4-H, Hagedorn said she always saw the parade and fair as a testament to youth work in 4-H, but it also gave her a sense of togetherness.
“It also reminds me what a sweet community Longmont is, that we still have these traditional things, like the county fair,” Hagedorn said.
Just down the street from the mother and son, Lauren Miller, of Longmont, said she was at the farmers market earlier in the day, when she saw a tractor decorated for the fair go by. Miller said she had almost forgotten that the parade was taking place until that moment and decided to go see it.
“I thought it was fun to come back out here and have parades back and feel like it’s safe enough to be outside,” Miller said. “I’ve been going to this fair parade since I was a little kid. I’ve probably gone to 20 of them.”
Like the Hagedorns, Rita Stetson, Donna Rodgers, Heidi Rodgers and Robin Schneider, all of Longmont, were there to support family members who were in the parade. They staked out a spot along Main Street at 9 a.m., an hour before the parade started.
“We come every year,” Stetson said. “It’s awesome (being back at the parade) and being able to go everywhere.”
Donna Rodgers said she would be searching for her grandchildren among the parade entrants.
Heidi Rodgers said her husband, Chuck Rodgers, who is Donna’s son, was in the parade to do a Meals on Wheels tribute. She said the float’s aim was helping to spread the word about the nonprofit organization, which provides meals to older adults and people with disabilities.
Besides the floats, the family was eager to see other fair entrants in the parade.
“I like the horses and the rodeo queens — they’re fun to see,” Schneider said.
After marching along Main Street, the parade proceeded north on Coffman Street, wrapping up back at Roosevelt Park. As the floats poured into the parking lot and viewers began to disperse, Allman offered up some advice for other aspiring athletes.
“My biggest piece of advice is just be open to trying new things, be willing to work really hard — and honestly, anything is possible,” she said.