PITTSBURGH — Behind every Olympic athlete, you will find a coach who helped them follow their dreams, starting at a young age.
For rowers Michael Grady and Alex Miklasevich, that coach is Central Catholic’s Jay Hammond.
For him, cool crisp mornings on the Allegheny River are everything.
“You’ve got to make sure you are with the rest of the crew,” he said. “I am pretty strict about that, because it teaches you boatmanship and is safer for the equipment and you.”
From Washington’s Landing to the most iconic spot in Pittsburgh, Point State Park, high school seniors regularly work with Hammond on their strokes for the upcoming season.
Hammond, now an attorney, once dreamed of being a teacher, but found his true calling was coaching.
It’s his 19th year as the varsity crew coach at Central Catholic, and the first time two of his former students are competing in the Olympic Games.
“You just watch them get bigger and stronger every year, and they just really want to do it,” Hammond said. “I get out there and I give them the conditions to where they can improve. So for me, it was just getting them there and giving them the opportunity. It’s just wonderful, I mean, I don’t really have much to do with what they’ve done.”
The parents of Miklasevich and Grady disagree, telling Channel 11 Coach Hammond is too humble.
“Jay taught them not only skill and technique strengthening, he taught them how to be gentlemen and good citizens,” said Jane Miklasevich, Alex’s mother.
“He was not easy, but it was good preparation for where Michael was going. And you know, these boys had to wear a tie and jacket to every race. They got in the mud and they rigged their boats. They stayed after every race and cleaned up the garbage -- in their jackets and tie,” said Tracy Grady, Michael’s mother.
Hammond says it’s not about him, but the sport, and what it teaches those on the river.
“You just have to watch for how it flows together, and when it gets right, you’ll see the boat move on. It’s just magic,” Hammond said. “It looks easy, but it’s incredibly hard. It’s not a glamorous sport, you are out putting in the time and grinding away. There is nobody watching, and you just have to be intentionally motivated, which those two guys really are,” said Hammond.
Hammond credits Grady and Miklasevich for setting the bar high and being an example for his current team, and a program that makes many proud.
“We’ve come a long way since I started. If you have a great coaching staff and kids are out there and want to give it a shot, come on down,” said Hammond.
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