Matt Krippel is a hometown hero in Columbia.
The 42-year-old grocery store employee recently returned from Peongchon, South Korea, where he won gold and silver medals in alpine skiing (super G and slalom) at the Special Olympics World Games.
"I got sixth in the giant slalom," he said. "I fell. I was going a little too fast."
Matt broke out in a big grin. He's known for keeping a positive attitude and never letting his intellectual disability hold him back.
Matt also plays basketball, softball and hockey. He's a coach's assistant for the Columbia High School football team and an honorary fireman. He also helps his friend, Danny Joe Callis, with his towing business.
"Everybody knows Matt," said his mother, Joyce Krippel, secretary and records clerk for Columbia Police Department.
After Matt returned from South Korea, two police cars and three fire trucks escorted him down Main Street.
Co-workers and friends celebrated with cake at The Market Place, where Matt cleans the parking lot, collects carts, stocks shelves and bags groceries.
Columbia mayor Kevin Hutchinson gave him an award at a City Council meeting, and his boss had a personalized Wheaties box made for him.
"Matt's a good kid," said Market Place owner Joe Koppeis, 58, of Columbia. "He's quiet. He works hard, and he doesn't need much supervision. He's just an all-around good clerk."
Matt is the son of Joyce and the late Raymond Krippel. He has a brother, Mark Baldus, 50, of Columbia, and sister, Andrea Kawalec, 49, of Red Bud.
Matt attended St. Mary's Special School for Exceptional Children and graduated in 1991 from St. Joseph's Vocational Center in St. Louis.
"He has some physical attributes that are way ahead," his mother said. "But he just needs a little guidance."
Matt learned to ski through St. Mary's. Staff took students to Hidden Valley every Thursday for six weeks in the winter.
The ski resort offers special instruction for people with developmental disabilities. Matt caught on right away.
"I had some great instructors who taught me how to stop and turn and keep my balance," he said.
One of Matt's biggest supporters was Sister Barbara Brunsmann, 63, formerly of Belleville, his dorm mother at St. Mary's.
She traveled with him to Minneapolis in 1991 for the Special Olympics World Games, where he won a bronze medal in swimming.
"I had several young men who were very good skiers," Sister Barbara said. "In fact, we took them skiing in the Poconos during spring break one year (on a donated trip). Probably the worst skier was me."
Today, Matt plays basketball and softball in Crestwood and hockey in Hazelwood, Mo. He still skis once a week at Hidden Valley in the winter.
His athletic pursuits are made possible by his mother, who doubles as chauffeur-in-chief.
"I read a lot (during practices)," Joyce said. "I enjoy seeing him have a good time. He keeps active and sees all his friends."
Matt skis in a regional Special Olympics competition every year in Missouri. That's where he caught the eye of scouts for the World Games.
Matt left for Peongchon on Jan. 23 via Kansas City, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea, and returned on Feb. 8. Mom stayed home this time around.
"I would have slowed him down, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay with him," she said. "They had him living in a hostel with 10 other boys and two coaches. They slept on the floor and ate rice three times a day."
Matt and other Team U.S.A. members wore matching red, white and blue uniforms. He used his own skis, boots and poles.
When Matt isn't playing sports, he likes to watch sports on TV, ride his bike, go to stockcar races and work in the pit for his friend, Bobby Bittle.
"With his sports and his personality, (Matt) has excelled," his mother said. "He's a fine man. He'd make anybody proud."