Before Shelby Houlihan even stepped onto the track, at Olympic Stadium in Rio, she had hundreds of fans half-a-world away cheering for her.
A "watch party", inside the Sioux City Convention Center was packed with more than 700 people waiting to root for Shelby in Friday night's gold medal final of the 5000 meters.
Houlihan was seeded 10th. But, no American woman had ever finished higher than 9th at that distance in the Olympics.
A trio of Kenyan runners quickly jumped ahead of the pack, and went on claim the gold and silver medals. Houlihan rallied late to finish 11th. She was just 2.7 seconds off of her personal best set during the Olympic trials in Oregon.
For the family, friends and fans, inside the Sioux City Convention Center, Houlihan's mere appearance in the Rio Games was something they'll remember for the rest of their lives. "She may not be a medalist for us tonight, but in our hearts she got the gold medal," said Gayle Jeffers, Houlihan's Aunt. "Her hard work, and her dedication to the sport... I don't know anyone else who could do any better job than she did," said Marlin Jeffers, Houlihan's Uncle.
Houlihan's Olympic moment also appears to have stoked the competitive fires of the kids in the crowd. Many called Houlihan an inspiration to them. They believe that Houlihan's hard work propelled her to the Olympics. And, if they work hard enough, they could do great things, as well. "I've never seen anyone from Sioux City in the Olympics," said Maria McGowan, Sioux City. "And, just seeing her in the Olympics just makes me want to work harder." "It really does show that, no matter where you're from, you Olympic dreams-- or whatever your dreams are-- can come true."
In case you were wondering, the folks that root for Shelby Houlihan are referred to as "Houli-fans."