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Purdue’s Young starts career as U.S. Army officer with a win in women’s varsity eight

May 15, 2011

By: Ray Parrillo, Inquirer Staff Writer
philly.com

Purdue’s Rachel Young smiles after being sworn in as an Army second lieutenant between heats of the varsity eight.

Purdue’s Rachel Young smiles after being sworn in as an Army second lieutenant between heats of the varsity eight.

Moments before a women’s varsity eight semifinal Saturday at the Dad Vail Regatta, Rachel Young delivered a clear and direct message to her Purdue crewmates: Race like it’s a final.

Yet the blue-eyed senior was having problems of her own.

“During warm-ups, I was sort of dazed,” said Young, a native of Brookhaven, Delaware County. “I knew a ton of stuff was about to happen and I had to refocus. I had to snap out of it. I almost had to forget this was going to happen.”

What happened was one of the more inspiring scenes in the 73-year history of the Dad Vail: Shortly after noon, the usually noisy crowd in the grandstand stood silently and respectfully and watched Young become Lt. Rachel Young as one of her ROTC brethren, Joe Park, commissioned her into the Army during a swearing-in ceremony. Right there on the awards dock.

“I know this is a goofy little word, but it was magical,” Young said.

Rachel Young , the No. 4 seat of Purdue’s varsity eight, kisses the trophy presented to the team after it won the final.

Rachel Young , the No. 4 seat of Purdue’s varsity eight, kisses the trophy presented to the team after it won the final.

Several people made the day memorable for Young. Her parents, Kathy and the Rev. David Young, who live in Blue Bell, pinned the bars on Rachel. A couple of aunts, her grandmother, some cousins, and two roommates were also on the banks of the Schuylkill to lend a warm family atmosphere.

Her crewmates also attended, then helped make her day even more memorable by winning the WV8 gold medal by a blink over Old Dominion. In her first race as a military officer, Young was in the No. 4 seat. “The engine room,” she said with a smile.

If not for Park, Ian Soderling and Alex Dehr, Young would have had an impossible decision to make.

The commissioning ceremony for ROTC students at Purdue took place Friday. When Young was putting together her schedule a few months back, she saw the ceremony conflicted with the Dad Vail.

Purdue rower Rachel Young , moments before her waterfront commissioning as an officer in the Army, gets a hug from her sister Hannah.

Purdue rower Rachel Young , moments before her waterfront commissioning as an officer in the Army, gets a hug from her sister Hannah.

“I sat there and kind of dibble-dabbled,” she said. “I told myself this can't be correct.”

Once reality sunk in, Young said she struggled so much with the decision that “a lot of tears were shed.”

She decided she couldn’t miss her final Dad Vail.

“I’m senior and leader on this team, and I didn’t want to be remembered as someone who ditched out on her last race,” she said.

Then she had a chat with her ROTC commander, Col. Dion Bates. Bates told Young, no problem, any sworn officer could give her the oath. That meant she could be sworn in by one of her ROTC classmates who had been commissioned. Park and Soderling were commissioned Friday. Dehr and Young both majored in law and society, and shared several classes together.