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

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.

"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.

"So I told my coach I'm going to bring some friends," Young said.

All Young had to do was talk Park and Soderling into making the 705-mile journey from Purdue's campus in West Lafayette, Ind., to Philly. Not much arm-twisting was involved.

"There was absolutely no hesitation," Park said. "We were going to do it. There was no doubt about it."

"I wasn't technically asked," Dehr said with a laugh. "But I said I'm going, too."

After Park and Soderling were commissioned, the two lieutenants and Dehr jumped into a car and began driving at 7 o'clock Friday night. They arrived at the home of Young's parents at 5:30 Saturday morning.

"That one has a lead foot," Young said, pointing toward Soderling.

They showered and drank plenty of coffee. Park and Soderling put on their uniforms and the three headed to the river.

Following Saturday morning's semifinal, Young was driven to St. Joseph's boathouse, where she changed into her uniform.

"It was such an honor to do that," Park said. "Being commissioned for a day and doing a swearing in the next day is pretty awesome. It's something I wanted to do for my best friend."

Young, who along with spending her first five years in Brookhaven also lived briefly in Bordentown, said she'll attend military school in Missouri to become an MP. Then she'll be stationed at Fort Dix.


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com