When thieves broke into Tristan Gale Geisler's Oceanside home Wednesday, they took more than just material belongings.
The burglars, believed to be three young men, took the Olympic gold medal that the Brighton High graduate won in skeleton in the 2002 Winter Games. She said the heartbreaking part about losing the medal is losing what it represented.
"It's been handled," she said, pointing out that she allowed fans to wear it and handle it so much that the original ribbon is a bit frayed. "It's been worn."
While some suggested she should have had it locked away in a safe deposit box or safe, she said she always wanted to allow others to share in the moment she earned nearly nine years ago on the very track where she learned the sport of skeleton.
"The medals in Salt Lake city were heavy," said Geisler, who moved to California because of her husband's military assignment. "They weighed two pounds. When they put it around my neck, I thought, 'This is what represents all of the work. It should feel like this.' "
Geisler, who grew up skiing, said the sacrifices that made her gold medal moment possible weren't made by her alone.
"People gave my parents money," she said. "My parents took out a second mortgage on our house. A lot of people helped get me there. That's what the medal means. It has a lot of emotion attached to it."
Now it is in the hands of burglars.
Geisler told police that three men knocked on her door about a week ago when she was cooking dinner one evening. She saw them, and because she didn't recognize them, she didn't answer the door.
They walked inside the house, and Geisler went downstairs to confront them.
"I wanted to believe they were lost," she said, acknowledging that in hindsight, they were likely casing her house.
She told her husband about it and a neighbor actually called police. But when the three young men left without incident, Geisler thought the situation, while unsettling, was harmless.
Then Wednesday when her husband woke from a late night of flying, she asked him to go with her to walk the dog and get some lunch.
"They literally had 40 minutes," she said.
That's all it took for the thieves to pry open a window on the side of the house, and then take her gold medal, her Olympic ring, her computers and hard drives.
"I backed up my computers, but they took our hard drives," she said. "All of my wedding pictures, everything."
She made a plea on local TV news in California that if anyone saw the items for sale at a swap meet, please help her out.
"I asked them to buy them," she said. "I will pay them back."
Heartsick doesn't begin to describe how devastated Geisler, her husband and family are that the medal has been stolen. And while the IOC could re-issue the medal if they deem it appropriate, she acknowledges that is a difficult process. And it wouldn't be the same medal that's been loved and admired for the last nine years.
"I will admit I opened the mailbox hoping to find they'd felt guilty and brought it back," she said. "I'm not going to lose hope. What's an Olympian without hope?"