Director of Publicity
Dad Vail Regatta
Philadelphia, PA (April 24, 2018) – To say the Jefferson Rams made a splash in their first season of rowing would be an understatement.
Tasked with building a crew program at a Division II university nestled in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, in 2006 newly hired coach Chris O’Brien gladly accepted the challenge of trying secure racing shells, oars and ergometers for practice, while also trying to gauge the student level of interest in a grueling sport.
Yet the strong turnout of 30 rowers–and just two with any rowing experience–in the program’s first year underscored that rowing is truly a team sport.
After spending that first fall season learning how to row together, the Rams in late April won the Bergen Cup, which is the Philadelphia City Championships, before capping their first season winning a coveted Dad Vail Regatta Gold Medal in the Women’s Novice Eight
“Dad Vail medals do not come easy,” said O’Brien. “To win in the first year of the program was amazing. We started out that year wanting to be a presence on the water, with the goal of developing into a serious player on the water. However, when I saw the passion and commitment of the group that first year, I knew we could be a player right away. So, we committed to the goal of winning. To see walk-on women on a novice team competing with the likes of UConn, Kansas, Villanova and Purdue meant that we were competing in the top ranks of rowing.”
This season the Jefferson Dad Vail Regatta, presented by Independence Blue Cross, PECO and Coca-Cola, will celebrate its 80th Anniversary when the event takes place on Friday, May 11 and Saturday May 12 on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.
For the Jefferson Rams, known as the Philadelphia University Rams prior to the July 2017 merger of Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University, the merger is expected to pay dividends for the crew team as it continues to row forward one stroke at a time.
“The University merger will help the rowing program to grow,” said O’Brien. “We now have double the number of students, which gives us the potential to pull additional quality walk-ons onto the program. And we have many more academic majors, which has the potential to attract more high school rowers across multiple disciplines. With the University’s increased visibility and scale, I believe the rowing program will follow suit and increase its visibility and scale within collegiate rowing.”
Since its start 11 years ago, the Rams women’s Varsity Eight has qualified for the DII/DIII grand final every year and has made five appearances at the NCAA Championships. In 2010, the then-Philadelphia University women’s rowing team placed 3rd at the NCAA Championships, the highest placing of any PhilaU women’s program in any sport at the NCAA Championship level. The Varsity Eight also paved the way for success in other categories.
The Men’s Varsity Four took silver at the Dad Vail in 2011 and the women’s Varsity Four took bronze in 2012. The school’s depth has also grown, putting at least three boats in the grand final of the Dad Vail Regatta in six of the past eight years.
“I love being on a team where I know the coach is as invested as the athletes,” said senior Kelsey Fairley. “This program is so special because Coach O’Brien started it all. In his first year, he saw the success and potential for the future of the program he was building. Since then, he has never lost faith in each new team’s work ethic and passion to race. One of the best aspects of our team is the number of walk-on rowers we gain each year. They learn how thrilling and competitive racing is, and how they can be just as fast as anyone else out there on the water.”
Fairley added, “The Novice Eight win in 2007 proves to every team member what is possible. It shows us that if we trust the process and we trust each other all year long, we will push each other to build a faster team that wins races throughout the season – including at the Dad Vail.”
Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University) is a leader in transdisciplinary, experiential professional education. Jefferson, home of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College and the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, is now a comprehensive university delivering high-impact education in 160 undergraduate and graduate programs to 7,800 students in architecture, business, design, engineering, fashion, health, medicine, science and textiles. The new Jefferson is reimaging the higher education value proposition with an approach that is collaborative and active; increasingly global; integrated with industry; focused on research across disciplines to foster innovation and discovery; and technology-enhanced. Student-athletes compete as the Jefferson Rams in the NCAA Division II Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.