When they came to town Thursday, they brought the gold medals they won in international athletics competitions. But these three American heroes left behind a far more valuable message of dreams, dedication and perseverance.

Cullen Jones, Olympic swimming champion; Evan Lysacek, Olympic figure skating champ, and Brad Snyder, a gold medal winner at the Paralympics, told their stories to several hundred students during a joint appearance at Fairfield Country Day School.

Snyder was a Navy lieutenant stationed in Afghanistan in 2011 when a bomb blast permanently blinded him. Exactly one year later, he won a silver medal the Paralympic games.

"Sometimes life throws some curve balls your way," he said of that experience. "That was a real tough experience for me and my family."

But, Snyder added, after re-assessing his life, he learned: "Don't let anything get in the way of your goals."

"Dedicate yourself to a goal, whatever it may be," said Lysacek, sounding a similar note. The skater, who won the men's singles Olympic gold in 2010, added, "If you dedicate yourself to the goal and you believe it ... you'll get there."

"Anything is possible," he said. "All we can do is our best. If you do your best, that's something to be proud of."

Jones, who has won two swimming gold medals, in 2008 and 2012, spoke of the commitment to his dreams.

"It took me a really, really long time to get better," he said. "There's so many times in our lives that we had to say no to friends and hanging out with people because we had a goal."

He and his fellow athletes told the students it is important to have both short-term goals and a long-term goal.

Lysacek described the moment he won his event and stood on the winner's platform, a gold medal around his neck. "This was a moment I'd dreamed about thousands and thousands of times," he said.

But, the skater added, "I realized the eyes of the audience weren't on me ... Everyone was looking at the flag."

He said it brought him a shared sense of fulfillment with the crowd, his nation and all the Olympians who went before him.

"I felt very small," he said, in relation to the "centuries and centuries of Olympic moments (that) had gone on with victories and defeats, with triumphs and tragedies."

At the same time, he said he realized, "My story was part of it."

"The stories are so inspirational," said Lisa Zelson of Southport, who with her husband Dan, arranged the athletes' visit. "And the message is so strong that we wanted to share it with this school, which is very dear to our hearts."

"At our school we're trying to not just keep our only assessments on academics," said FCDS Headmaster John Munro. "Empathy is very important to us."

He said since many FCDS students come from privileged backgrounds, it's also important to "teach our boys the value of the struggle."