Family of local Olympian cheers from afar during Tokyo games

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 11:45 PM EDT
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HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - The 2016 Rio Olympics saw Henrico native Townley Haas with his own cheering section in the aquatic center. Those same people are rooting Haas on during the Tokyo games, but are forced to do so a little bit differently.

These Olympics mark the latest stop in a journey that Lori and Channing Haas, Townley’s parents, have had front row seats for during its entirety.

“He was nine months old crawling into the ocean, not afraid of the waves, not afraid of the sound of the surf,” Lori remembered. “He’s loved the water since he was tiny.”

Haas grew up in the pool, providing his parents with plenty of memories- flailing in the water at 18-months old, learning the hard way the consequences of a false start during a youth meet years later. Fast forward and the 24 year old is making his second trip to the Olympics.

“I told him ‘Townley, you’re one of the old guys at 24 years old. You’re one of the old ones,’ and he laughed” smiled Channing.

“I think it caught him off guard when he made the team and a reporter asked him and mentioned ‘you’re the veteran now,” Lori added. “But I think he relishes that role.”

2016 saw Haas make his first Olympic team at 19 years old. He would finish fifth in the 200 meter freestyle, but win a gold medal as part of the USA 4x200 meter relay team. His parents were in the stands in Rio every step of the way.

“It’s just invigorating and it’s electric and it was fun beyond imagination,” recalled Lori. “We just had a ball the whole time. We decked out in red, white and blue everywhere we went.”

“When he won gold and then after the podium walking down, we went down to one of the lower levels and the people actually got up and let us sit down there,” Channing said.

COVID-19 is preventing a similar experience in Tokyo. Not being able to make the trip to Japan is a tough pill to swallow for the Haas’s parents with their son on the biggest stage, but they’ve planned to make the most of it with watch parties and celebrations at home.

“Your child on that international stage, one of the biggest stages for swimming ever, and you’re not there to give him a hug or say ‘atta boy,” Lori said. “We’re making the best of it.”

The support of the community has helped with that process. From NOVA Aquatic Club, to friends and neighbors, to family and work colleagues, a lot of people are eager to watch the Benedictine graduate hit the water.

“The community from all walks of his life, all walks of our lives, are very supportive,” pointed out Lori. “They’re interested, they’re proud and he’s a two-time Olympian regardless of what does or doesn’t happen.”

‘I’m a very proud dad,” Channing added. “I show them pictures of 2016 and they’re like ‘alright, we’re going to watch.’ It’s been fun with the support of people around me.”

Needless to say, both mom and dad are extremely proud of their son. Lori says it’s a feeling to which many parents can relate.

“Whether your child is 2, 10 or 22, 42, you want them to be healthy and happy. You want them doing the things they love and be the best they can be, no matter where that is on that scale.”

Haas did not advance to the finals of the 200 meter freestyle, but he still has plenty of swimming remaining. He’ll begin his quest for back-to-back gold medals in the 4x200 meter relay on Tuesday.

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