The ultimate: Former East Lyme resident Ryan Pivirotto achieves his Olympic speed skating dream

Ryan Pivirotto, a former East Lyme resident, competes in the men's 1,000-meter race during the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials on Dec. 17, 2017 in Salt Lake City. Now 22, Pivirotto will be competing in his first Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)
Ryan Pivirotto, a former East Lyme resident, competes in the men's 1,000-meter race during the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials on Dec. 17, 2017 in Salt Lake City. Now 22, Pivirotto will be competing in his first Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Rick Bowmer/AP Photo)

Ryan Pivirotto has taken the fast track, both figuratively and literally, to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

And when the 22-year-old short track speed skater marches into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on Friday with the rest of the United States delegation, Pivirotto will certainly take a moment to remember how his brief time living in East Lyme made it possible for him to realize this ultimate athletic accomplishment.

But he won't be the only one. His father Scott, mother Carolyn and sister Jessica will be among the 35,000 in attendance. And East Hampton's Dave Moneypenny, Pivirotto's coach and mentor during his time in Connecticut, will be among the millions glued to the television during the opening ceremony in hopes of catching a glimpse of his former student.

Not bad for a kid who first laced up a pair of ice hockey skates back in Michigan when he was five and continued to play youth hockey with the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks when his family moved to East Lyme in 2007.

And not bad for a kid who wasn't formally introduced to short track speed skating until 2010.

••••

Pivirotto attended East Lyme High School for two years and was playing for the Fitch/East Lyme/Ledyard cooperative hockey program.

That's when Carolyn Pivirotto sensed a change in her son.

"I wasn't sure if he was loving (hockey) anymore," Carolyn recalled. "And Ryan agreed. I told him if he didn't want to play hockey, fine. But I didn't want him to sit home playing video games, and if he was going to stay involved in sports, I wanted it to be an ice sport."

With an internet assist, Pivirotto became intrigued with short track speed skating, a sport U.S. Olympian Apolo Ohno put on the map when he won the first of his two Olympic gold medals at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

With some more help from the internet, Pivirotto discovered the Connecticut Speedskating Club.

And Dave Moneypenny.

"They literally called me up and then showed up," said Moneypenny, a former semi-pro hockey goalie who also became intrigued in the sport. "... And he brought his hockey skates."

This was 2010 at The Rink in Shelton.

"He was small, about 120 pounds, and pretty quiet," Moneypenny recalled. "The club had rental skates, but I had a pair of custom-made skates that just happened to fit him perfectly, so he jumped right into a pair of $2,000 speed skating skates. He didn't have to get into a crappy pair of outdated club skates.

"I said to myself, 'This kid's a decent skater.' But the biggest thing is he seemed focused from day one. He told me, 'I want to do this.'"

He trained with Moneypenny and the club in Shelton for 90 minutes once a week while completing his final high school hockey season, then made a full-time commitment to his new sport.

"We found the perfect match unknowingly with Dave Moneypenny," Carolyn Pivirotto said. "Ryan was able to flip back immediately between hockey and speed skating, and I could tell he was much happier again."

••••

Learning the training techniques and strategies of short track speed skating is difficult.

Trying to take on those aspects when you're 14 is nearly impossible because most of the sport's elite skaters start at younger ages.

"I've always had the natural ability to skate well and that could be seen when I was playing hockey," Pivirotto said. "I just glided without effort whereas others really put in effort."

Moneypenney saw that natural ability, too.

"I saw a kid that could skate pretty well," he said. "And fortunately for him he got to train with people like Claude Gilbert, who had already been skating with us five or six years and had won at nationals every year, and Kristen Santos, who just missed making the Olympic team this year.

"They were both about Ryan's age and really helped each other out. Once he saw Claude flying around the ice, his jaw dropped. When you see guys going 35 miles-per-hour around a hockey rink it's really incredible. And when he saw how fast Kristen was, and she was beating up on him every day, it was a big help to him."

Skating, however, was just a small part of the training. There was off-ice training, too, which could be "absolute torture," Moneypenny said. The off-ice training included simulating on-ice movements in repetition, and it was time consuming.

Skaters are told, "You're not going to be able to do this on an eighth of an inch blade if you can't do it on a three-inch shoe."

Translation: If you love skating, you better love off-ice training, too.

Pivirotto, Moneypenny said, eventually bought into every aspect of the sport, and "we put him on the fast track."

••••

Pivirotto competed regionally under Moneypenny's tutelage in a number of Mid-Atlantic state venues, but his first taste of national exposure came in the summer of 2011 when he was invited to participate in a junior development program in Pittsburgh.

He stayed with the Krueger family, training with athletes like John-Henry Krueger, who is now his Olympic teammate.

"Heidi Krueger took fabulous care of Ryan that summer," Carolyn Pivirotto said. "And then much to my surprise, at the end of the summer he was asked to stay with the program and went to a club in Washington D.C."

Her son would live with host families, train and take online high school courses, eventually earning his diploma from Indiana University High School.

"Leaving my parents and living with a host family was a little weird at first, but I was able to adapt quickly," Ryan said. "It felt like I was leaving my blood family and being welcomed by a new kind of family and that made it a good transition.

"It was a little hard at times to do both my academics online and skate full time because at the end of the morning sessions I would want to nap and recover for the afternoon sessions, but I had to get my schooling done. I think I put in around two or three hours of schooling each day."

When his time with the junior development program ended, Pivirotto returned to East Lyme, but this time he trained exclusively with Moneypenny.

"I've never coached anybody privately before," Moneypenny said. "But I took him on because he was very eager to learn, he lived fairly close and his parents were home-schooling him. Carolyn and Scott were very dedicated. They would give him a ride all over the place. We would train at Shelton, sometimes at Trinity (College) and they would even haul him up to Bolton (Ice Palace) during public skating so we could get some work in. They deserve so much credit.

"But I also told Ryan, 'If you want to go to the Olympics and compete on the world scene, I'm not going to put more into it than you do.'"

••••

A little more than three years later, Pivirotto captured his first national championship in 2013. He was only 17, but Moneypenny told him, "It's time to go. We don't have the ice time you need here. You need training every single day, 6-8 hours a day, six days a week. ... I would love to keep you here, but when you're on the national scene, let U.S. Speedskating take you in."

He began to work under Jae-Su Chun, Ohno's former coach and the former coach of the U.S. national team, in Salt Lake City, where his mother relocated in 2014. He took part in the 2013 U.S. Olympic trials, also in Salt Lake City, but came up short.

"He hadn't had a lot of big racing competitions," Moneypenny said. "Racing against world record holders, they know all of the different strategies, and he was still learning, so it was tough."

He did post a U.S. record by skating the fast lap time of 8.2 seconds, and when the 2017 U.S. Olympic trials came around in December (also in Salt Lake City), Pivorotto was the last athlete selected to the five-man team. He is on the 5,000-meter relay team, which holds its qualification race on Feb. 13, and has been training in South Korea with Jae-Su since January.

"I do realize that I am doing something only a handful of people will ever do," said Pivirotto, who won't rule out a chance to compete for spot in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, when he will be only 26. "Being an international athlete is an honor. Some days I do look back and see what I've just done and have a momentary awe."

As for mom, "It's a little surreal. We always talked about the potential of this happening, so there are all kinds of emotions. But he worked super hard. In any sport there are always ups and downs, but he kept rising and moving forward.

"I'm really proud of him. This was not easy."

c.banning@theday.com

Former East Lyme resident Ryan Pivirotto, a member of the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, strikes a pose while trying on his official team gear last week in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
Former East Lyme resident Ryan Pivirotto, a member of the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, strikes a pose while trying on his official team gear last week in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
When his family moved to East Lyme in 2007, U.S. Olympic short track speed skater Ryan Pivirotto played youth hockey for the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
When his family moved to East Lyme in 2007, U.S. Olympic short track speed skater Ryan Pivirotto played youth hockey for the Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
Ryan Pivirotto poses with his sister Jessica, a 2010 East Lyme High School graduate, during the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pivirotto failed to qualify that year, but earned a spot on the 2018 U.S. short track speed skating team and will compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
Ryan Pivirotto poses with his sister Jessica, a 2010 East Lyme High School graduate, during the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pivirotto failed to qualify that year, but earned a spot on the 2018 U.S. short track speed skating team and will compete in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Pivirotto family)
Former East Lyme resident Ryan Pivirotto poses for his official U.S. Olympic team portrait. Pivirotto, 22, will compete in the short track speed skating during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Team USA)
Former East Lyme resident Ryan Pivirotto poses for his official U.S. Olympic team portrait. Pivirotto, 22, will compete in the short track speed skating during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Team USA)
Gangneung Oval will be hosting the short track speed skating competition during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyoengchang, South Korea. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)
Gangneung Oval will be hosting the short track speed skating competition during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyoengchang, South Korea. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

OLYMPIANS WITH LOCAL TIES

Following are brief bios of 2018 U.S. Winter Olympians with local ties:

Jamie Anderson

Age: 27

Event: Snowboarding (slopestyle, big air)

Hometown: South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Local connection: Anderson's mother Lauren (Plourde) Anderson is a 1972 St. Bernard graduate; grandfather Pete Plourde is a former high school football coach at St. Bernard and Montville and a member of the St. Bernard Athletic Hall of Fame.

Notes: Jamie is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the slopestyle, winning the event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. ... Was the 2016 Federation of International Skiing World Cup overall, big air and slopestyle champion and the 2017 FIS World Cup slopestyle champion. ... Has won five gold medals at the Winter X-Games, the latest coming in last month's slopestyle in Aspen, and is the most decorated female athlete in Winter X-Games history with 15 medals. ... Became the youngest Winter X-Games medalist in 2006 when she won a bronze medal at age 15. Jamie (slopestyle) and sister Joanie (snowboardcross) both won gold medals at the 2007 Winter X-Games.

Caitlin Patterson

Age: 28

Event: Cross country skiing

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska

Local connection: Patterson's mother Margaret Hillhouse grew up in Old Lyme; grandmother Jennifer Hillhouse lives in Old Lyme.

Notes: This is the first Olympic appearance for Patterson, a 2012 graduate of the University of Vermont and a native of McCall, Idaho. ... Competed in the Federation of International Skiing World Championships in 2011 and 2013, finishing 14th overall in the 2013 10K freestyle and 20th overall in the 2011 15K pursuit. ... Her younger brother Scott will also be making his Olympic debut this year. ... Plays the mandolin and violin.

Scott Patterson

Age: 26

Event: Cross country skiing

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska

Local connection: Patterson's mother Margaret Hillhouse grew up in Old Lyme; grandmother Jennifer Hillhouse lives in Old Lyme.

Notes: This is the first Olympic appearance for Patterson, a 2014 graduate of the University of Vermont and a native of McCall, Idaho. ... Competed in the Federaton of International Skiing World Championships in 2014 and 2015, finishing 18th overall in the 2013 15K classic and skiathlon 15/15K, and placing 13th in the 2015 15K freestyle. ... Older sister Caitlin is also making her Olympic debut this year. ... Enjoys climbing and rafting in spare time.

Ryan Pivirotto

Age: 22

Event: Short track speedskating

Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Local connection: Grew up in East Lyme and attended East Lyme High School for two years.

Notes: Will be making his first Olympic appearance, finishing fifth overall at the U.S. Olympic Trials. ... Will compete in the 5,000-meter relay. ... Competed in 2017-18 World Cup events in Seoul, Shanghai, Dordrecht and Budapest with his best finish a 16th in the 1,000-meter race in Budapest. ... Also competed in the 2016-17 Short Track Fall World Cup team event and the 2017-18 Short Track World Cup team event. ... Also qualified for the 2013-14 U.S. Junior World team.

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments