The most important thing Noah Yablong brought home from the Paralympics in London wasn't a gold medal but a fiancee.
Before the games began Aug. 29, the Homestead graduate and wheelchair tennis player proposed to Claire Bond-Choquette in Hyde Park. Yablong had met at the University of Arizona, and he had received permission from her father a couple of weeks before.
Yablong, 23, didn't get too uptight about the proposal, but becoming Fort Wayne's first athlete to participate in the Paralympics was a little different.
``I was a little bit nervous,'' Yablong said. ``Once I finally got out on court it got to be a little bit more, I realized there was a lot more to it.''
Yablong lost his singles match to Wasiu Yusuf of Nigeria 6-2, 6-3.
``It was a tough match,'' he said. ``I did what I could for the most part, but the other guy played better.''
Then Yablong and doubles partner Stephen Baldwin had to play Sweden's Stefan Olsson and Peter Vikstrom. The Swedish pair won 6-0, 6-1 -- on their way to the gold medal.
``Both my partner and I had never played consistently against opponents of their caliber,'' Yablong said. ``We had really played only a couple of tournaments together before the games. They were just that much better than us.''
Now Yablong returns home to Ocean Ridge, Fla., where he'll look for a job, plan a wedding and hopefully be able to prepare for a return attempt to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He's also sure to make a few trips to Fort Wayne to help inspire the next generation of wheelchair athletes.
``I think we can use it in a lot of ways,'' said Tina Acosta, Turnstone's director of sports and recreation. ``For the young kids it serves as a great role model that if you have that drive and that's where you want to go, it can happen. We are a Paralympic Sport Club, so we have some direct lines to the Paralympics. If they want to compete at a high level, we can help them set their sights.
``We feel like he's the first that we can say we have a connection with. We feel like in the next coming Paralympics we expect to have some more athletes competing as well.''
Yablong has been confined to a wheelchair since age 9 when he his right hip was diagnosed with Legg-Perthes disease, a degenerative bone condition found only in children that cuts off the circulation to the hip joint.
Nobody plans to be a role model, but Yablong accepts that now he is one.
``I've always liked trying to influence younger kids to be better than they are,'' he said. ``Now I have an even better way to do that.''