Drexel sophomore Dean Hill became hooked on rowing by going to events such as the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta, and now he is continuing a family tradition by competing there.
Hill will be on a Drexel team that finished second, two points behind champion Purdue for last year's overall title. This year's 75th annual Dad Vail Regatta is Friday and Saturday on the Schuylkill.
Hill won a silver medal last year on the Freshman 8 and this season will be competing on the Lightweight 4.
A graduate of St. Joseph's Prep, Hill has been going to the Dad Vail since he was a youngster. His father, Drew, rowed for St. Joseph's University and later was the men's coach there for nine years, ending in 2010.
Hill's older sister Laura competed at the Dad Vail two years for St. Joseph's, winning a silver and a gold medal. So with such strong family roots, this is an event that means everything to Hill.
"It was an amazing feeling being with my family and watching my sister compete and my dad coach, and those were some of the reasons that got me into crew," Hill said.
And his father has that same enthusiasm for the Dad Vail.
"It's more exciting watching my kids row than when I rowed," Drew Hill said.
Then, laughing, he added: "What's great is that my kids have done so much better than I did."
Drexel men's and women's coach Paul Savell said that Hill has had a major impact on the program's success.
"He has been an outstanding rower for us," Savell said. "He had a great fall and has continued this spring."
Dean Hill said one of the great aspects of the Dad Vail is performing before overflow crowds. Participating in a 2,000-meter race can be a grueling exercise of both athleticism and endurance, and Hill said that the crowd last year was a motivating factor.
"When you don't know if you have that extra energy to push that 400 meters to the finish line and then you hear the crowd, especially by the grandstand, the pain dissipates," he said. "You get a rush in your body, and it allows you to find that next level."
Hill said that competing last year was a memorable experience. The competitor in him suggested that he was initially disappointed in not winning a gold medal, but reality soon set in. He'll always cherish his family's reaction once he crossed the finish line.
"Even though I was driving for gold, it was a great feeling and cool to see my dad and the rest of my family cheering and so proud," Hill said.
Hill, majoring in architectural engineering, enjoyed an outstanding high school career at St. Joseph's Prep, which is nationally acclaimed for its rowing.
He said one of the reasons he chose Drexel was that it was a program on the rise. Last season's showing in the Dad Vail continued the Dragons' upward movement.
"In high school we had the target on our back, and now at Drexel, we are in the position of underdog and chasing down everybody else and making a name for ourselves," he said.
The underdog role may not hold after last year's finish.
And regardless how Hill or Drexel finish, the sophomore will again have a big cheering section to help push him over that final 400 meters.