Saint Joseph's Chase Powell rowing with heavy heart at Dad Vail

Chase Powell, whose mom recently died from ovarian cancer, has had the strong support of his teammates.
Chase Powell, whose mom recently died from ovarian cancer, has had the strong support of his teammates. (SIDELINE PHOTOS)
Posted: May 13, 2011

WITH EIGHT men working in unison to overcome that next challenge, rowing might be the ultimate team sport, and no one knows this better than Saint Joseph's Chase Powell.

Less than 2 months after losing his mother to cancer, the senior rower will rejoin his teammates on the Schuylkill this weekend to compete in the prestigious Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta for the fourth time in his college career.

"I told my coach that I wanted to be there for the team in any way possible," Powell said. "They were there for me throughout it all."

Tragedy first struck Powell's family in 2004 when his mother, Lorraine, was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. Although the prognosis wasn't good, she was far from giving up and continued to fight the disease for a remarkable 7 years before passing away at age 50.

"My mom was an absolutely incredible person," Powell said. "She battled through it day-in and day-out and never once complained."

Around the same time her cancer was discovered, Lorraine was riding in the car with her son near their hometown of Marietta, Ga., when she noticed an advertisement for a rowing club.

"She thought it was something I might be interested in, because I had already played almost every sport imaginable," Powell said.

He decided to give the sport a try and quickly found it was the one he wanted to stick with.

Racing for St. Andrew Rowing Club throughout high school, Powell was recruited by Saint Joseph's. His team has won back-to-back bronze medals in the lightweight eights at the Dad Vail, considered by many teams to be the biggest race of the season.

"There's just thousands and thousands of people lining the shore," Powell said of the competition. "It's like a big festival."

He had been competing on the varsity eight this spring before he had to make the difficult decision to leave his team. Powell knew he needed to be at his mother's side as her final weeks approached.

"She told me at the end that I had to go back to school and finish up. I went back the morning after the funeral," Powell said.

He did not go back alone.

"There were, like, 15 guys on the team who drove all the way down to Atlanta from Philadelphia after my mom passed," Powell said. "They skipped school and practice to come support me."

Since returning to campus, Powell has been on a mission. The senior political science major has had to work twice as hard in the classroom to get back on track to graduate. He's also worked twice as hard on the water.

"If the season had been a couple weeks longer, I think he would have ended up back in the varsity eight," Hawks coach Dan Goettner said. "He's really on a warpath or whatever you would call it. He's been driven more than ever before over the past few weeks, and I think it's helped the team a lot."

Powell will compete tomorrow morning as part of the team's junior varsity eight. Since graduation falls on the same day as the race, Powell and his fellow seniors will slip on their caps and gowns and receive their diplomas in the boathouse.

"It's kind of nice, because it's like an individual ceremony," Powell said. "You're just graduating with your best friends."

To Powell, they're more than friends. They're his family.

"When you're waking up for practice at 5:30 every morning to do exhausting workouts together, you bond pretty closely," Powell said. "My teammates are wearing ovarian-cancer support bracelets for the race in my mom's honor. I'll definitely have the teal ribbon on my uniform."

Lorraine would never have missed her son's graduation.

"She told me before she passed away, 'Trust me,' " Powell said. " 'I'll be there waiting on the dock after the race and after your graduation. You may not see me, but I'll be there.' "

Afghanistan to Schuylkill

Readjusting to civilian life after a 9-month tour in Afghanistan is never easy, but for one local rower, serving her country has given her the tools to succeed both in school and on the water.

Philadelphia University's Mary Costello will help power the team's varsity eight at the Dad Vail Regatta this weekend, only 4 years after joining the Air Force out of high school.

Her time serving in the military and a tour as a medic attached to an Army unit in one of the world's most dangerous places have given her the confidence to accomplish just about anything.

"It's made me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to," Costello said. "It gives me determination and drive to work harder, to do my country proud. I now want to be the best person I can be for my team, my country, my family, and myself."

The 22-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., native joined the rowing team in the fall, but has been on the water for only about 18 weeks. In that short period, the former high school track and basketball star has come a long way.

"She's still young in terms of the process," coach Chris O'Brien said. "But in those 18 weeks, she's progressed a lot faster than most people. That's a testament to her age, athletic ability, intelligence, and work ethic. In terms of raw power, she's really good. For a first-year rower, she's an A-plus."

This weekend on the Schuylkill, Costello will face her biggest rowing test yet. Although she has never been to the Dad Vail, if it's anything like what her teammates told her, the experience should be tremendous.

"It's our biggest race of the season, but I've never been to one before, so it's kind of nerve-racking and exciting at the same time," Costello said. "No one really knows how good our team is yet. I think we're going to surprise some people." *

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