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Friday, June 10, 2011
Drexel's O'Neill honors ailing father after victory

Liam O'Neill
Drexel's Liam O'Neill, right, and Peter Schmidt won the prestigious Dad Vail for O'Neill's sick father.

They were behind. Drexel's Liam O'Neill, in the stroke seat, and Peter Schmidt, bow, were trailing in the men's varsity pair finals at the Dad Vail Regatta on Philadelphia's Schuylkill River back on May 14.

They'd won the race the year before, won the Bob Negaard Trophy as the champions of this event at the nation's biggest college regatta. The Dad Vail is the big daddy in collegiate crew, with more than 100 colleges competing, thousands of rowers on the river. They'd won this race a year ago. But this time they were behind, running out of water on the 2,000-meter course.

They had to make a move. They had to make it now.

They caught one boat, then another. They closed hard on the leader, Lafayette. Down the stretch, they came.

And then they were even. With the finish line closing in, they were even. For what seemed like an eternity, they were even.

"We're still working on them!" the Drexel announcer yelled. The cowbells in his section pleaded for more, just a little more.

Stroke. Stroke. Stroke.

Lungs seared.

Stroke. Stroke.

Muscles screamed.

This wasn't heart, or guts, or determination, or the will to win or any of that. No, this was, "the relentless pursuit of happiness," Liam's mom, Joan, would later say.

Sport is not everything. Sport is not the only thing. But sometimes, it can give you that one beautiful moment. That one great day.

Just when you need it most.