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Connecticut Shoreline Town Is Unlikely Hotbed Of Winter Olympic Athletes

Up and down Main Street in downtown Madison, the local chamber of commerce has placed one American and one Olympic flag atop every single light post. They are flying high in celebration of the town’s three Olympians — freestyle skiers Mac Bohonnon and Kiley McKinnon and figure skater Zach Donohue.

Of Connecticut’s eight athletes representing Team USA in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics that begin Thursday, Madison has the most of any Connecticut town.

But Madison isn’t a town that screams winter sports. It’s a beach town.

“One thing about the people of Madison is a lot of people go to Vermont for the weekend and they do a lot of skiing,” Madison First Selectman Tom Banisch said. “This is how it came about. Zach is a different story. He’s a skater. We don’t have a skating rink in town either.”

In fact, Donohue learned how to skate 20 minutes away from Madison at East Haven’s Veteran’s Memorial Rink. And he got farther and farther away as he grew from a novice figure skater into a national champion ice dancer. He now trains in Montreal. Donohue’s mother, Dee Eggert, said that he overcame ADHD and came into his own on the ice.

“The main reason we got him involved in skating -- it was something that he loved, it was something that he was good at, and he really wasn’t good at competitive team sports,” Eggert said.

Melissa Arms, a seventh grade teacher at Polson Middle School in Madison, has known skier Kiley McKinnon since she was six, coached her in gymnastics, and taught her and her teammate Mac Bohonnon in seventh grade math.

“In school, she was a complete angel. Mac — not so much,” Arms said. “He’s the only kid I allowed to do this — he would jump on the doorframe, swing and do pull-ups, and swing his way out. His upper body comes from swinging out the door in math class.”

She heard a story that it was Bohonnon who convinced McKinnon to try her hand at skiing competitively.

“Mac and Kiley were on Facebook going back and forth,” Arms said. “And that’s when Mac was like, ‘We have an open tryout. You need to come up. You can ski and you can flip.’”

McKinnon then qualified for the developmental team and never looked back. She’ll be competing in her first Olympic games, while Bohonnon is going to his second. He finished fifth in the aerials event four years ago in Russia.

Donohue, who is going to the Olympics for the first time, didn’t move to Madison until he was 13. And he was home-schooled, so he’s less well known in town. His mother is still appreciative of how her son is being honored.

“Skating isn’t really followed in this country like it is in other countries, so I’m very excited,” Eggert said. “I was downtown, as a matter of fact, yesterday and I took a picture of the street lined with the Olympic flags and the U.S. flags. I sent it to Zach and I said ‘Zach, look what they’re doing.’”

Despite the unlikelihood of summery Madison being a breeding ground for local Winter Olympians, the townspeople plan on showing out for it.

Madison will host a red, white, and blue day on a Saturday in February. First Selectman Banisch said the town has reached out to a local theater to screen the events.

Frankie Graziano is the host of 'The Wheelhouse,' focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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