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East Lyme's Hannah Miller managed to fit a national title into her very busy schedule

Jun. 7—In a span of about three weeks, Hannah Miller will attend her college graduation, take a fun trip to Disneyland with college friends, fly home to Connecticut for a family celebration, move from Seattle to Texas and cap off the crazy busy month by getting married.

Miller started off her season of joy by winning a Division II national championship as a member of the Seattle Pacific University rowing team last weekend.

"It's wild," Miller said earlier this week. "I'm still processing it. It still hasn't fully set in."

Miller was referring to her first national title but could have said that about any of her significant life events this month.

Last Saturday, Miller, a 2020 East Lyme High School graduate, did something that she could have never imagined when she enrolled at Seattle Pacific in Washington as a freshman.

Competing in Bethel, Ohio, Miller and her teammates in the varsity 4+ boat rowed to the national championship, beating runner-up Cal Poly Humboldt by 4.015 seconds on the 2,000-meter course.

Seattle Pacific was the pre-championship race favorite after posting the best time in Friday's heat race while using a lineup that featured three new rowers.

The Falcons jumped in front in the grand final and gradually increased their lead before closing out the national title-clinching win. Seattle Pacific placed fifth overall in the team competition.

"It was exhilarating, to say the least," Miller said. "We were very tired. I don't think any of us could have rowed one more stroke. We were exhausted. But it was such a proud moment. ... We wanted to make history and we did for our school."

Miller's trophy sat on her dresser in her apartment earlier this week before she packed up for her move.

"I'm just so happy to be able to do that with this team and my teammates and just be a perfect cap to the last 12 years of my rowing career," said Miller, who competed in the NCAA women's rowing championships three times in her career.

It took time for Miller to become interested in the sport that her father Grant competed in at East Lyme High School.

She started out by attending a middle school summer rowing camp.

"At first, I hated it," Miller said. "I'm going to be honest, I thought it was stupid. Why can't we use motors in the boats? And then I just kept coming back. ... And I fell in love with it. I met a bunch of really cool friends."

Miller joined the high school rowing program and also rowed with the Blood Street Sculls out of Old Lyme during the summer.

She was hooked.

The sport suits her personality.

"I just love how connected I feel to people rowing," Miller said. "If one person is having an off-day, you're all having an off-day. We have this saying on my (college) team, 'You win as a team and you lose as a team.'

"I really feel that in rowing. I just love it. ... It fits perfectly with me and who I am. I'm a very team-oriented person. I love doing things for other people. On my college team, we make it a purpose to row for all of our teammates who are at NCAAs and who are at home, people who came before us and the people who will come after us. That's a huge part of who I am and it's just a big motivator.

"And it's fun to be able to be with people who are motivated by the same things."

Miller originally wanted to attend college in New England.

Her father suggested checking out Seattle Pacific after spotting the school's rowing team at his hotel during a work trip to San Diego. Seattle Pacific was competing in the San Diego Crew Classic.

"They were the only team that brought tables together so that all the girls on the trip could sit together and have breakfast," Miller said. "I really liked that. That's the same thing with East Lyme rowing, we were such a connected crew."

Still, Miller waited a few months before reaching out to Seattle Pacific.

Everything eventually fell into place.

Seattle Pacific provided the close-knit rowing family that Miller desired. She fell in love with Seattle and her team. And she made life-long friends.

After winning the national championship race, Miller returned to Seattle and packed for her move. She will graduate from college on Saturday and then take a trip to Disneyland with college friends before flying home to East Lyme for her brother's graduation.

Then she'll be off to Texas to join her husband-to-be Jake, who's in the United States Air Force, and begin a new job. She's getting married on June 22.

"Very busy, but just a time of real joy," Miller said. "We're celebrating my brother's graduation and all his accomplishments and my graduation and national title and marriage."

Rowing will be in her future as well. After taking some time off and healing up from some injuries, she'll return to the sport.

"Rowing has brought me such joy and it's always been one of my happy places," Miller said. "I can't imagine putting it down for too long."

g.keefe@theday.com