Over the course of the last 50 years, the Cal Cup has been a sought-after prize for men's varsity teams competing at the San Diego Crew Classic (SDCC). Considered by many as the premier Spring regatta, this annual event provides collegiate teams with a chance to size up the competition across the nation and earn rankings affecting the rest of the rowing season.
So, it is no surprise that when the University of California San Diego (UCSD) men's varsity team ascended the awards stage to accept the esteemed honor last year, they were elated and proud of their achievement. But there was one other person on the podium who was beaming with pride, the trophy's sponsor, George DeVries.
DeVries has a long history in the rowing community, taking up the sport when he attended Culver Military Academy during his high school years in Indiana, then later rowing for the UCSD Tritons starting in 1979. DeVries has vivid memories of competing in the San Diego Crew Classic as a collegian. Given this history, DeVries felt truly honored to present the trophy to his alma mater-especially in such a pinnacle anniversary year.
"Yes, that was really fun," DeVries remembers. "The UCSD boat that won the Cal Cup was a very strong boat and a really strong group of guys. You can see how much UCSD has progressed from when I was there. It was exciting to see that and congratulate the team on their success."
Through the years, DeVries has seen great progress in his own life following his graduation from UCSD. What happened between those first strokes on Mission Bay in 1979 and presenting the Cal Cup for a full-circle moment in 2023?
After starting out working from his townhouse in Southern California only a few years out of college in 1987, DeVries launched what would become American Specialty Health® (ASH) seeking an opportunity to connect patients with services not included in traditional healthcare benefits packages at the time. With an initial goal to build out the first chiropractic specialty health plan in California, DeVries then grew the company nationally and expanded their offerings to include physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and other specialty health services.
In 2008, DeVries led ASH to develop and implement its first fitness product offering-the Silver&Fit® program, which would serve the senior population through Medicare Advantage plans. That was followed by the introduction of the Active&Fit® family of fitness programs to help all Americans live healthier. ASH is now a nationwide provider of healthcare, fitness, and well-being programs and services that serve more than 60 million Americans through hundreds of health plans nationally.
DeVries attributes much of his company's success to the value of teamwork, which he learned during his early years as a rower.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think that the core of who I am was developed in rowing," DeVries said. "When you row, you have to be committed and passionate to the sport itself and working together as a team. With commitment, passion and teamwork, great things are created and achieved by those teams."
He also learned that the values and requirements for success for competitive rowing are the same for business.
"At American Specialty Health, we have a strong culture built around teamwork, working hard, and delivering great service for our clients," DeVries added. "I always believed from the moment I started this company that my most important decisions weren't the product we were offering or creating, but the people we were hiring and the team we were building."
Named by UCSD as one of "50 Distinguished Alumni" in 2011, DeVries is often recognized for his innovative vision and his entrepreneurial expertise. This was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic when many companies struggled, but DeVries's team-first attitude helped ASH weather the event and come out stronger on the other side. Now, ASH employs more than 1,700 employees in 47 states across the nation. Because the ASH team continues to deliver at the highest level, the health services company has earned several recent accolades including the Nation's Best and Brightest in Wellness, Top Workplaces Culture Excellence, and San Diego Union-Tribune Top Workplaces awards. The company also posted its highest earnings ever in 2023 with an annual revenue of more than $800 million.
Life hasn't been all work for DeVries, though. George and his wife Jan of 37 years, have four children. DeVries has applied the same diligence, care, and support to his family that he does at work. He has also fostered a love of rowing in the next generation. All three of DeVries' sons attended Culver Military Academy, too. DeVries and Miles White teamed there to help build the White-DeVries Boathouse to support their high school alma mater rowing program in continuing to develop young athletes. His sons continued their rowing careers in college, just as their father did-two at Yale and another at the University of Pennsylvania.
DeVries said returning to the San Diego Crew Classic as a "regatta dad" was one of his favorite memories from the event. In one of the final years of his sons' tenure at Yale, the DeVries family gathered several friends at the "Classic Brunch by The Bay" to watch the racing and delight in seeing his son's team compete. He said he really enjoyed seeing everyone dressed up and "decked out" for the brunch and regatta.
His long and multi-faceted history with the Crew Classic event as a sponsor for 26 years has made DeVries one of the regatta's most valued and recognizable stewards. His love of the sport-and of this exceptional event that he once rowed on his home water as a collegian-has stayed with him long after he hung up his oar. It also served as the eventual foundation of values that have guided him as a successful CEO and father.
ASH and the DeVries family memories were created in no small part due to a regatta that honors the hard work and commitment of every rower; though, it mostly honors a sport that demands selfless and indomitable spirit as well as the willingness to give it all for the end goal and for the team.