Sean Gibel says he has no idea what he'll be feeling emotionally when he and his teammates reach the start line for Friday's first-round heat.
"That's kind of a tough question," Gibel said Tuesday. "I'm not exactly sure what it will be. . . . But right now, I'm kind of using it as a little motivation.
"Knowing that he's not there anymore, it's going to be tough. I'm definitely going to use it as motivation. I'll always feel it in my heart, just knowing that he's up there watching."
It was a thrill for Gibel last year to be at the Dad Vail. He stroked the winning varsity four team on the Schuylkill while his mother and father watched, and then saw his dad being honored with his teammates on the 25th anniversary of the Owls' 1986 win in the varsity eight.
So Gibel literally followed in his father's footsteps, not only in the sport but also competing on the Schuylkill, where his father competed in dozens of races.
"We were both in the stroke seat," Gibel said. "In that position, he taught me that there's no reason you can't ever just keep growing stronger and stronger. Most of my will and motivation comes from stories I heard from him to keep pressing. I'm a small guy, a lightweight, but I never back down."
Georgia Tech coach Rob Canavan was a teammate of Paul Gibel's at Temple and said the entire Owls' team looked up to him.
"He was a year older than me," Canavan said. "We were one of the first Temple varsities to win the Dad Vail. He was always a guy willing to spend time with the young guys, the novices, and help them become better and faster."
Sean Gibel was born in Philadelphia, but his family moved to the Atlanta area shortly afterward. His paternal grandmother, his aunt and some cousins still live in the Delaware Valley.
Canavan, who maintains a home in Brigantine and spends his summers as a lieutenant with the Brigantine City Beach Patrol, said Gibel has "the heart of a lion" and that he has been impressed with the way the senior has performed since his father's passing.
"Sean came back as focused as ever," he said. "Nobody can really bounce back from a loss like that but he's doing quite well considering the circumstances."
Canavan said he has been talking to his team about the Dad Vail Regatta since the first day of practice last fall.
"Coach cares about the other races, but he says to us that we're training for the Dad Vails," Gibel said. "The Dad Vail is a big, big race. It's our national championship for all intents and purposes. He talks about this is the race we train for and this is the race we're going to peak at."
Gibel won't allow himself to think too far ahead about helping lead the Yellow Jackets to the heavyweight eight title, as his father did for Temple. But you have a feeling that if things get tough, Sean Gibel won't slow down.
For Dad Vail coverage online, go to www.philly.com/dadvail
Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq.