Paige Propp couldn't help it. She doesn't ever remember smiling halfway through a 2,000-meter women's varsity 8 race at the Dad Vail Regatta, regarded as Drexel's rowing Super Bowl.
But after 1,000 meters of competing in the pouring rain on the Schuylkill last year, Dragons coxswain Nupur Parikh informed her rowers: "Smile, because we're winning Dad Vails," Propp recalled.
"I will never forget that because I was smiling in the middle of a race," Propp said Thursday before going out with her varsity 8 teammates to get a final practice in before Friday's start of the 80th Dad Vail Regatta.
"We knew at that point we had clinched it. Coming to the finish line was just the most excitement. We were all splashing the water in elation. We had been hoping for this for the past few years, but to finally get there across the finish line first was unreal. It was extreme happiness to reach that goal and get to that level."
One of three seniors on the boat, Propp, a Bishop Eustace graduate who occupies the No. 7 seat, hopes to conclude her career in the Dad Vail with a repeat performance. She was part of the varsity 8 the previous three years when the Dragons finished third, second and first, and she believes the boat has gotten faster this year.
As for the emotions of rowing in her final Dad Vail Regatta, Propp said she felt it was easing the stress associated with going back-to-back.
"We're all feeling the pressure of what's going to happen in the next couple of days," she said, "but we are trying to stick together as a boat, keep each other positive, and kind of just work together on the feeling – like really energetic in a good way for this race.
"I think every year, Dad Vail is our No. 1 goal. We reached it last year. It was the best day of our lives, so to relive it would be exceptional."
The Dragons won the women's points title for the first time in program history last year and that helped Drexel post its fifth consecutive overall team points crown.
Propp, a captain and a two-time CAA all-academic team selection, regards competitiveness as her biggest attribute. She inherited much of that characteristic from her father, Brian Propp, who spent 11 (1979 through 1990) of his 15 NHL seasons with the Flyers and scored 369 goals.
"It wasn't like he pushed me too hard or really was ever in my face about anything," she said. "It was just little competitions in the house, like card games and basement hockey. I just feel like I kind of brought that over to how I row or even play ice hockey. It's what drives me. I just have that urge to be better."
Paul Savell, Drexel's director of rowing, said Propp is a great leader who gives her teammates confidence.
"She's got great tenacity," he said. "She comes from an athletic family and I think that just helped form her mind-set about how she approaches athletics, and it shows. She's not the biggest on our team, but she's really tough."
Propp was about to begin her sophomore year at Drexel in 2015 when he father suffered a stroke, and she said the support of her teammates helped her get through the initial shock. Brian Propp, 59, still undergoes physical therapy for his right hand but is back playing golf and recreational hockey.
"With his own competitive nature, he's just ready every day to try to be better," she said. "Physically he's still very strong. He really didn't let anything slow him down."
Paige Propp hopes the same applies to Drexel's women's varsity 8.