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Old Lyme rowing community rooting on Hack and Corrigan

Old Lyme — A congratulatory banner is prominently displayed on the side of the Old Lyme Rowing Association's Fred Emerson Boathouse near Rogers Lake.

It honors U.S. Olympic rowing team members Austin Hack and Liam Corrigan, two Old Lyme High School graduates who grew to love the sport there and competed for the high school team before both enjoying successful careers on the college, national and international levels.

Now the 29-year-old Hack and Corrigan, 23, are in Japan preparing to compete for the men's eight in the Tokyo Olympics. Their first race is Saturday, July 24.

When they line up on the starting line, they'll have an entire town, especially the rowing community, pulling for them.

The OLRA is holding a viewing party for the final on July 29 at Old Lyme Country Club. About 79 people already signed up as of last week.

"They started here," said Paul Fuchs, whose extensive background in the sport includes serving as the OLRA's director of rowing. "This is where they decided that they loved rowing. ... You could tell they were extraordinary when they were rowing in Old Lyme. But where they really developed was after they left here, they really went up the scale. Rowing at Harvard and Stanford doesn't hurt. Awesome programs."

Hack, a Stanford graduate, is a second-time Olympian, having competed in the men's eight in 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro where the boat placed fourth. He comes from a rowing family — his father Greg competed at Brown and mother Barbara at Dartmouth.

This is the first Olympics for Corrigan, a Harvard graduate, who will be in the stroke seat.

Liam's parents, Joan Rivington and Brian Corrigan, had a good idea that their son would make the team, but it didn't make the official announcement any less thrilling.

"It's amazing," said Rivington, who also took up rowing after watching Liam row in high school. "It's just incredible. We can't believe he did it."

Corrigan and Hack are the third and fourth Olympians to either have learned to row through the Old Lyme Rowing Association or passed through the Blood Street Sculls program. Sarah Trowbridge of Guilford rowed in the 2012 London Olympic Games and Old Lyme graduate Andrew Bolton was an alternate in 2008 in Beijing.

As news spread about the selection of Corrigan and Hack, both families heard from numerous town residents, friends and family.

"The town has been very supportive," Rivington said. "We're really appreciative of the high school and the high school program, Old Lyme rowing and just the town for supporting rowing. It's really incredible that there's two guys from one small town in the same boat ... and for a public school of 400 kids to be able to develop the kids.

"There's a lot of good kids that come out of Old Lyme Rowing and they have good college careers but don't always make it to the Olympics. I'm just grateful. And it's a nice program they have, too. It's competitive but still fun. It's not too stressful for the kids."

As the high school rowing coach, Louis Zubek played a part in the development of both Corrigan and Hack, who check in at 6-foot-5 and 6-8, respectively. He also coached them in basketball and had both in math class.

He took over the Old Lyme program in 2006 in Hack's first year on the team and was there for Corrigan's entire high school career.

Hack and Corrigan are extremely similar physically and athletically as well as being driven, smart and hard workers, according to Zubek.

"For me, it's just unbelievable," said Zubek, who left coaching two years ago when he was hired as the principal of Griswold Middle School. "I knew when they left high school, they were highly-recruited, one of the top recruits in the country. ... All through high school, they rowed all over the world. So I knew they could row in the Olympics and it was always in the back of my head how cool would this be if the two of them rowed on the same team together.

"I just didn't think it was possible, more so for timing purposes. Austin is six years older. For the two of them to make it, I'm definitely proud of them and happy for them because this particular sport it's extremely difficult physically and mentally, the amount they put in since they were freshmen in high school is unbelievable.

"The fact they made it this far finally justifies all the hard work they put in for the last dozen years or so. ... Austin was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime athlete to have on my team and then four years later, I had Liam, so I got lucky twice."

There's a buzz in the Old Lyme rowing community about their two hometown Olympians.

The OLRA named a boat after Hack after he participated in the 2016 Olympic Games. Corrigan will likely be honored next.

Corrigan was born in Canada and lived in Michigan before moving to Old Lyme when he was 10 years old.

"I definitely feel like Old Lyme is home for me," Liam said last month.

The U.S. Rowing team trained in Oakland and Hawaii before arriving in Japan last week. The race venue is Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo, which is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in the U.S.

Both Hack and Corrigan are confident about their team's chances to medal. Hack was part of the men's eight that placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic Games.

"We all have high standards and we all want to win," said Hack, who's the oldest member of the boat. "Certainly coming in fourth last time in retrospect was pretty devastating to be so close and to have even, in the days and months before, beaten some of the crews that ended up winning medals.

"I'm absolutely going back to Tokyo with the mentality to not let that happen again."

Unfortunately, their families will be unable to travel to Japan due the Olympics barring fans for health and safety concerns.

"We had the whole trip planned and we had all our tickets bought, so we were really disappointed when they announced no spectators," Rivington said. "But I understand safety and peoples' lives first."

Instead, Rivington and her husband Brian, as well as Barbara and Gregory Hack will head to Boston to watch the heat races with two other rowing families. For the finals, they'll be in Orlando with other Olympians' families to be together for the Summer Games.

Rivington heard from Liam last week via text.

"I think he's trying to keep his emotions under control," Rivington said. "We haven't actually been in too much contact with him because he's trying to stay focused. I don't want to distract him. All the guys have worked really hard the last two years, so they're focused guys to begin with."

If the Old Lyme graduates earn a medal, they'll probably be able to hear the cheering from roughly 6,740 miles away, the distance from Tokyo to their hometown. They both spent some time training in Old Lyme during the pandemic in 2020.

"They're two incredible individuals in real life, not just in rowing," Fuchs said. "They're amazing people. There will be more to come from them. It will be interesting to see what happens."

g.keefe@theday.com

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