At times while he was growing up, Andrew Friedlander could sense the curious stares he would get from others, and would be tempted to remove the hearing aids that made him feel different.
"I was definitely self-conscious when I was growing up," the 22-year-old St. Joseph's senior said. "It would come to the point where I didn't want to wear the hearing aids. But I've learned to accept my hearing loss as part of who I am."
Those feelings of discomfort are long gone, and Friedlander stands as a shining example that much can be overcome with perseverance and dedication. And few athletic endeavors require those qualities more than rowing.
Friedlander, who was born with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears, will be pulling from the No. 2 seat in the Hawks' varsity eight boat at the 69th Dad Vail Regatta, to be held tomorrow and Saturday on the Schuylkill.
This is the second year the native of Wynnewood and St. Joseph's Prep graduate is on the varsity eight crew. Last year, he was part of a Hawks squad that has won the men's team championship at the Dad Vail in three of the last four years and the overall team title in the last two.
He won a silver medal as a member of the freshman eight, and added a gold his sophomore year while rowing for the second varsity eight.
Aside from collecting medals and enjoying the competition and camaraderie that come with rowing, Friedlander said the sport had helped shape his self-image. Rather than feel sorry for himself, he feels pride.
In fact, he said, it's times when he's without one or both of his hearing aids that he feels fortunate, such as when one of them fell into the water while he was rowing for Penn AC during the summer four years ago.
"When I don't have a hearing aid is when I realize how far I've come," he said. "And it was one of those digital hearing aids that cost about $2,500. But there are times when I'm out on the water and something happens that I have to overcome."
The Hawks' men's rowing coach, Drew Hill, has been around Friedlander since he was a freshman at St. Joe's Prep, where Hill helped to coach before moving on to Hawk Hill. And although Hill no longer thinks much about Friedlander's impairment, he's still amazed when he does.
"He has adapted to it so well, I never found it to be a huge problem from my side," Hill said. "I knew Andrew at the Prep, and we recruited him pretty hard. Actually, it seems to me that because of his hearing impairment, he's more visual, and I think that's helped him quite a bit in rowing.
"He's been a resource in the boat. He has a pretty good sense of what's going on, and I don't know if that's because the other senses are more acute."
Hill said the only times Friedlander seemed to get frustrated was when his hearing aids got wet and emitted a high-pitched sound.
"In order to try to protect them when there's a threat of rain, he'll wear this big camouflage-covered hat," Hill said. "Sure, he puts up with some hardships. He's not always the happiest camper when they get wet."
Friedlander received a combined academic and athletic scholarship to St. Joe's. He is a political science major and carries nearly a 3.5 cumulative average out of 4.0. He's on the university's honor roll and plans to attend law school in the fall.
With his college career winding down, he'd like to help St. Joe's win a medal in the varsity eight. The Hawks men haven't won the Dad Vail's most prestigious event since 1970, and will have to upset favored crews from Temple, Marietta, Purdue and Florida Tech to end the drought.
But Hill said his crew was peaking at the right time. It consists of Friedlander; junior Gavin Adams, from Father Judge High School; senior Alex DiBiasi, from Monsignor Bonner; senior Sean Flynn, from La Salle; sophomore Jack Drewniak; freshman Glennon Griffin; senior Dan Lachant; sophomore bowsman Sean King, from Cinnaminson; and senior coxswain Stephanie Gehringer, from Mount St. Joseph Academy.
"I think we're going to have a very good race," Hill said.