The Head of The Charles is rowing’s premier international competition. The sport requires the highest standards of physical and mental drive, discipline, toughness, preparation and the need for precision execution.
In this episode, host Fran Racioppi is joined by one of rowing’s fiercest competitors and the greatest of all time on the Charles River. Gevvie Stone is a three-time Olympian and the 2016 Rio Games Silver Medalist in the women’s single. She has won the Head of The Charles 10 times in the Championship Single, including six in a row from 2014-2019.
Gevvie lays out the importance of physical, mental and emotional strength; how a dedication to standards is essential to compete at the highest levels; and why trust and confidence in yourself and your team are developed one stroke at a time over years.
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Head Of The Charles – Olympic Medalist Gevvie Stone
The sport of rowing developed my standards of physical and mental drive, discipline, toughness, preparation and the need for precision execution. I credit much of what I achieved in Special Operations and as a leader, to the blood, sweat and tears I left in the Charles River. The Head Of The Charles is rowings premier international competition bringing the sports best to Boston to tackle one of the most challenging courses in the world.
I’m joined in this episode by one of rowing’s fiercest competitors and the greatest of all time on the Charles River. Gevvie Stone is a three-time Olympian and the 2016 Rio Games Silver Medalist in the women’s single. She’s won The Head Of The Charles ten times in the championship single, including six in a row from 2014 to 2019. She’s also won multiple times at the collegiate and high school levels.
Gevvie and I discuss the importance of physical, mental, emotional strength, how a dedication to standards is essential to compete at the highest levels and why trust and confidence in yourself and your team are developed one stroke at a time over the years. She also shares the special relationship she has with her dad who’s been a coach through the majority of her career. Gevvie walks us through the mindset of a champion tackling both the Charles River and emergency room medicine. She shows us that sunrise over Boston holds a special place on Earth and in our hearts.
Gevvie, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
It’s great to be back here in Boston. It is a beautiful day. It’s a Fall day. We have October 2021 coming upon us. The Head Of The Charles season is coming up. The Pats are in full swing. The Red Sox are in the playoffs. The Celtics are getting ready. The Bruins are getting ready to go. There’s not a more beautiful place in the world.
The Charles River was pretty spectacular. You forgot the Boston Marathon. It’s happening this 2021.
I did not realize that. It’s about time. Everything’s changing. When I was looking at the Head Of The Charles history in preparation for this, there are only two years in the history of The Regatta where it’s been canceled. One was COVID and the other one was in 1996 with a storm, which I found super amazing considering all the bad weather that we have here in Boston.
I distinctly remember the 1996 year because my dad was featured in the Globe Sports article. Five crews decided to go out and brave it anyway. There’s a photo framed in our bathroom of my dad in his doubles partner in pouring rain and wind that was on the front of the Globe Sports section that year.
It builds character.
There was a year that was shortened. That was in the late ‘90s. We started around Riverside.
This is prime time for you coming into the Head Of The Charles season, nine-time national team member, ten Head Of The Charles wins in the Championship Single. We were going back and forth about how many additional wins you’ve had in various other boats. We put the number somewhere between 4 and 7 depending on how you count it. Amazing history for you and your family in that racecourse. Multiple-time finalist at Henley, numerous World Rowing Cups and World Rowing Championships, US Rowing Female Athlete of the Year in 2016, three-time Olympian, 2012, 2016, 2020 and the 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist. Did I miss anything?One of the things that is so wonderful about rowing is there is always room for improvement. Click To Tweet
I lost track.
Honestly, one of the sports all-time greatest athletes. It’s such an honor and a privilege to sit here with you. I rode at nowhere near the level of competition that you did. I was a walk-on at Boston University because I figured I had two choices. One was to get in trouble or two is to go do something that was going to make me better. Rowing has set the conditions for so much that I’ve done in my life. I truly believe that I would have never achieved many of the things that I have in my military career and my personal life if I hadn’t had the discipline, the preparation and the mindset that rowing has instilled. Your story and how you have approached your training at all these levels are inspirational.
I want to start with the Head Of The Charles. We spoke about the winds. In 2013, you would have had a streak of eight straight. You went two, you had 2013 and then there were six straight, which sets the record for the most wins consecutively in history. The Head Of The Charles is the largest two-day Regatta in the world. There are about 11,000 athletes that row and almost 2,000 boats in 61 events. It’s the premier international event for the sport.
The Championship Singles is one of the most elite events. I raced in the collegiate four, which is way below the Championship Singles. You said about this race, “You’re racing yourself in the clock while knowing that anyone out there in the back of the pack could be going fast. You’re racing against your pain in a way.” This is your home course. You’ve been around this sport since you were a little girl. What does this race mean to you? Why is it important to the rowing community in general?
Head Of The Charles holds a special place in my heart long before I started rowing myself. I attended as a kid with my parents rowing. It was a reunion for my dad’s college friends. My parent’s national team friends both rowed on the US team. It’s always been on par with Christmas or the Fourth of July. It’s a big holiday because it is the people you care about getting together. We would have dinners with my dad’s college friends and one of their mothers would give us presents, which made it seem even more like Christmas as a kid.
As I grew older, I began to row for my high school and then my college. Head Of The Charles is a reunion for me and my friends in addition to the family friends that I grew up with. Aside from the rowing, it’s incredibly special to have this weekend that every year brings back the people you’re close to. Any sport is lucky to have an event that is Juniors through Masters. Also, everyone at every level is not only excited to come back and return and watch the elite people race but also to participate in their own right because everyone gets their chance to row and stay connected with the sport.
I went to a wedding with a bunch of guys that I went to BU with and they had rowed several years ago in the alumni race, in the alumni boat. They told me that it was hands down the best row they ever had in their careers because the pressure was off and they’re old and fat now. You’re right, it’s every level. There are the super-competitive actual races and then there are people who are getting back together, getting out there and re-living it.
You have the kids as young in there are middle schoolers, 13 and 14 and people as old as in their 80s. Everyone’s getting back and sharing this bond that they have, which is rowing. In addition to the reunion aspect, there’s the racing aspect. It is a festival. There are people on the banks, food tents and music. Rowing doesn’t frequently have that mass appeal that a beautiful weekend in October will draw in Boston. You have a sports city.
It’s not just the pro sports, it’s for the marathon and everything of every walk of sports. It’s a very active city. You bring in good Fall New England weather and all these athletes coming in and it creates this incredible atmosphere. It’s fun. To race along the course and the river means a ton to me because it’s where I learned to row and where I’ve trained at the elite level to race along with the Charles with that atmosphere. It’s a great. I can’t wait.
Let’s talk about the race itself. We saw you out on the water. I was out with Boston University and with Tom the Head Coach. He said to me after we saw you go by, “She never compromises on competition or standards.” That’s something we’ve been talking about a lot with the team as I’ve worked in the performance development side of the athletes and trying to bring that in line with the physical aspect. It worked on the mental and emotional side of the sport.
The race is 3 miles long and there are six bridges. You know better than I do the number of turns that live within those six bridges. Two of them, Weeks and Eliot, are at the sharpest points in this. In the race, there are thousands of people who are lining the entire 3 miles of the racecourse. You said, “I put a lot of pressure on myself for this race because I know the river and I have so much amazing support. I want to make the supporters who helped me get there proud.”
You’ve also spoken about the anxiety dreams that you have before these events. No one knows this river better than you. I say I left my blood, sweat and tears on that river whenever I look at it. Can you talk about race? Can you talk about the evolution that you go through in your mind as you come up to the start at the Boston University, DeWolfe Boathouse? You can hear the megaphone and you can hear them calling you. What’s that like? Take us through that start through the different turns, through the bridges and then coming into that finish.
It’s a lot of spectators. One of the things that makes it special is that it’s a hometown race and there are lots of spectators. For me, it means that people that I’ve gone to medical school or high school with can come and see me row. A lot of my races are international. Also, they’re abroad. This is a chance for people who hear me talk about rowing nonstop and see me rush out of work or this or that to get in a workout can connect to this passion that means so much to me and see me do it. I feel like eyes are watching but it’s only their eyes. My friends and most people who know me will support me no matter what, which is fortunate. It’s the Junior and the Master’s rowers and these people who don’t know me, look up to me and expect me to steer a perfect course and row perfectly.
It’s an expectation of excellence.
I’m of the mindset that I’ll be lucky if I take one perfect stroke in any given practice. There’s so much room for improvement in rowing. I’ve been doing this for decades. I’m still focusing on these technical details. One of the things that are wonderful about rowing is there is always room for improvement. Having all those eyes does make me nervous. As I tell Junior rowers when I talk to them, nerves are what helped me. It means your adrenaline is going and your body is ready to go.
The start of Head Of The Charles is no different in a lot of races in that sense. I’m reminding myself that if I feel nauseous and butterflies, that’s a good thing. It means that my body is ready to go. I’m taking a few deep breaths, calming myself down and I love racing to have fun. That Head Of The Charles is a little bit different in terms of the weather.
One of the trickier aspects of The Regatta is that the temperatures change drastically through the day in October in Boston. Depending on the time of day that you’re racing and what the conditions are layering appropriately and then deciding how much you want to take off or put on at the start line is always a big dilemma. It’s like, “Do I want to wear my sunglasses? Do I not want to wear my sunglasses? Is the sun going to go down while I’m out here?” There’s no fixing it within that 3 miles. It’s like, “Do I want my long sleeve? Do I not want my long sleeve?”
Normally, you’ve 2,000 meters and it’s the middle of Summer and you’ve nothing to think about. You worry if you’re going to wear sunglasses. With the Head Of The Charles, all these things are going in your mind. It’s going to be about twenty minutes. What do I want to have on? That’s a funny thing that goes through your mind. You’re looking for your competitors and trying to line up. There’s usually someone who’s scratched so something’s out of order.
You always go into the chute so much earlier than you would expect ahead of the trials. You lined up at the start line and it seems forever in front of the race. It’s probably ten or so minutes. I never can quite anticipate how long that we’re going to be sitting in that chute. They start you slightly differently than you would start in practice. You start much farther over to the Boston shore to get a straight shot for that BU Bridge, which is something that in a normal Charles traffic pattern would get you run over by any boat going downstream. Thank goodness for the buoys that they put out for Head Of The Charles.
I am racing this 2021 but I will never be the first event because the men precede the women. You see the races in front of you go off. Like any race, there’s that moment of giddiness when the announcer calls you up to the start line and you get to paddle into it. You have the first joke and you’re like, “This is going to be 3 miles. How many strokes on the paddle can I take and still get to full speed by the time I cross the start line? Can I get away with 3 or 4? Maybe I should take two and be at full pressure for longer.” When it comes down to it, what is the difference between the two strokes at the start line when you’re taking however many hundred strokes over the course of the race?
I always think that the first minute is trying to almost fly or die between BU and the BU Bridge because it’s 30-ish strokes. You don’t have to think about steering. The BU Bridge is the narrowest of the bridges you will go through. You probably should not hit it. If you are lined up appropriately and if you are able to go straight, you will not hit the BU Bridge. Going for it that first minute and then you go through the bridge, recenter your point to go alongside Magazine Beach and take it down to whatever race pace that you’re able to kick it along for the rest of the race, the borderline unsustainable pace.
You get to Magazine Beach and you’re already half a mile into the race and then come to Riverside and you take that turn. Depending on the current, I’ve taken the Cambridge arch going through The Powerhouse Stretch. I’ve taken the middle arch’s going through The Powerhouse Stretch. It depends on how much rain we’ve had and what the stream is like in the river. Either one especially through the river sea bridge, will give you the same distance. I do try to take the middle arch going through Western.
That’s the big straightaway.
If you’re going to start later in the pack, that’s where you want to pass people because there’s plenty of room. It’s almost four lanes wide and you can get away with changing positions. With the Head of the Kevin, the scrimmages that we do leading up to the Charles, that’s where I want to get a maneuver around people if I can. If you can target it there, that’s where you want to do it because it is straight and another arch will make too much of a difference as far as your total.
A lot of people cut Weeks tight too early. You want to come into the turn relatively straight for longer than you want to. The buoy is drifted farther and farther away from your port or and you got to let it go. When you take the turn, you want your boat to be more than perpendicular. It must be almost entirely through the turn as you pass underneath Weeks, which means you’ve got to have the room to do that. You’ve got to go past the bridge and then turn.
It’s deceiving when you look at it because as you’re coming into it, you don’t realize that bridge is much more of an angle. If you don’t start it soon enough, that’s where you see the eights getting tied up.
The single is much easier to maneuver than any of the other boats. Rowing a double on the Charles and bowing it takes a lot more to turn a double than it does to turn single. We all get back in our single practice and be like, “We oversteered.” We’re zigzagging down the river because it’s easy to turn the single.
No one ever mentions Anderson. As someone who rows Charles on a daily basis, Anderson is the hardest of the turns probably because it’s the one turn that we do not take until Head Of The Charles weekend. I take Weeks turns every day. I go through Anderson every day but I always take the Cambridge arch. In racing, you take the middle arch. The Cambridge arch is closed off. By taking the middle arch, it’s a much sharper turn.
The Cambridge arch, you can get with an almost straight line. To go through the middle arch, you have to go out towards Boston and back in towards Cambridge, which is different. I always have to take some lucks there. It is a matter of knowing your starting points. I know there’s a window with some Ivy on the Harvard Business School going through Anderson. You say that to someone else and they’re like, “What are you talking about?” There’s one window that has more Ivy and that’s what I line up with. That’s my starting point.
NASCAR drivers do that on the track. You think about the same thing where everyone’s like, “It’s going in a left turn.” Every inch of that turn, they’re focused on something, a point in the stands or on the top that they’re pointed at and going towards.
It’s going every point of the cars. I know exactly which building I want my starting point to be coming along Magazine. Around that Magazine, I know each turn which BU building as my starting point. Going to The Powerhouse, there’s one building. It has a squarish top next to the Agganis Arena. There’s one specific green bench going through Weeks that you know you’re straight on. The whole way down the river is all based on starting points. I can turn around as little as possible. I’m lucky that I’ve been starting first. I don’t have to worry about crashing into someone ahead of me. It’s the bridges that don’t move.On the national team, it's either you make it, or you don't. Click To Tweet
You come through by Newell and this is where a lot of people have trouble because the crowds tend to get thinner and there’s a long turn ahead of you. We call it the half-mile turn because it is a half-mile of turning. With Head Of The Charles, you’re tight on that buoy line for half a mile. You don’t get in any normal strokes for a long time. In addition to the mental challenge of it being quieter than the rest of the course and you’re 2 miles into a 3-mile race, you’re feeling it.
The walls are closing in now.
As someone who is from Boston, that’s my favorite part of the race. Even though it feels like you’re turning forever, I’ve done it many times that I know every stroke of it. I know when it starts and when it’s going to be over. It’s because I’m more familiar with it, it’s easier to do. I’m also on the more endurance side versus a sprint side of athletes. That’s the point of the race where I get psyched up to open it up on people.
It’s the homestretch. You go past the CBC and go through Eliot. I go past the Windsor boathouse where I learned to row. You can then take the turn tight and almost be in the bushes because there are no buoy lines along the Cambridge shore. Once you go past the dead birch tree, it’s only 30, 40 strokes to go. It always is done sooner than I expected it to be even though it takes almost twenty minutes.
You break the race up. In one of the interviews that I saw that you had, you talk about these ten stroke intervals. Can you talk a little bit about the manageable chunks? You talked about breaking up the racecourse itself but then the actual physical side of having to not think about, “I’ve got to put my body through this over 3 miles but if I can do it in these smaller chunks, it’s more manageable.”
Going through the landmarks, the head courses are a little bit different than the 2K course. The 2K course has usually few landmarks. In Tokyo, we were lucky we had a bridge that we went under, which made it accepting. In general, usually, they’re pretty much the same and then there’s also not a ton of scenery or you’re not aware of the scenery because you’re narrowed in that your peripheral vision has diminished.
In the 2K course, I take a lot of ten-stroke pieces. For the head courses, I take ten-stroke pieces. As opposed to focusing the race around those, I do focus more on the landmarks. It’s a matter of, “I’m on Magazine Beach. Soon, I’ll be at Riverside.” Getting a little burst there and then it’s the next bridge. There’s always a landmark over the Head Of The Charles course. It’s seven bridges, turns and people. Even that last 0.5-mile turn, it’s only 800 meters between the 2-mile mark and CBC, which is not that far in the scheme of things. I break it up by landmarks for the Fall races more than ten stroke pieces.
2021 is a little bit different than the previous years. In the previous years, you’ve been in Championship Single. As you’ve come out of your final Olympics, at least you’ve said it’s your final Olympics, we’ll see. We might hold you to it. You’re going to race in the Masters. What’s that shift like?
I’ve gotten a bunch of grief about it because I did race in the Olympics not long ago. I raced the Champs Single in 2017 when I was a resident intern. I had worked the night shifts that week. I had worked night shifts through Thursday and raced on Saturday. I didn’t work the night immediately preceding the race. I had worked on Thursday nights. I’d slept during the day on Friday. My body clock was like, “In the middle of the day, you should be asleep. These are your normal sleep hours.” I got to the boathouse and felt terrible because my body was saying, “You should be asleep now.” I hadn’t been training because we work roughly 60-plus hours a week in residency because you always seem to go around our shift.
The ER too.
We don’t have time for meals. You’re eating bars. Your sleep schedule is changing every week, if not more frequently. You’re on your feet and busy. My training program was not training as an elite athlete. I got out there. It was definitely the hardest race physically that I’ve ever done because it was all about grit. I wasn’t rowing well and I wasn’t fit. It was about gritting it out.
I got to the dock and I learned that I won. I was relieved more than anything else because everyone expected me to win. It was the first I was up at the dock and I said, “That was the first race I’ve ever done that wasn’t fun.” To this day, it’s the only race I’ve ever done that wasn’t fun. I put so much expectation on myself and I felt other people put expectations on me that I should win this despite all these challenges and difficulties going into the race.
Something happened with the award ceremony and they said, “You don’t need this. This is whatever number. It doesn’t mean anything to you at this point.” In my head, it meant a ton because it’s one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. It felt like everyone expected me to win. If I hadn’t won, it would have been this big to do. When I did win, it was like, “You won again despite the fact that it was not an ordinary year.”
After going through that, I approached 2021 and said, “I do not want to raise the Champs Single again while a resident.” I want to be able to go to the Head Of The Charles and have fun despite the fact that I know that I’m not training as much as the elite athletes. I know that people are gunning for Paris and still training full-time. They should win the Champ Single and I don’t want to have any of that pressure or anxiety. It was too much of a mess. I decided to enter the Masters Single. People say, “Aren’t there rules in the Olympians race?” There are not. The only rule about the Masters Single is you have to be in your 30s.
The 30s are not old but they call it the Masters.
I’m squarely and fairly in it. I have been training. As a typical Master, my rows are typically an hour and no longer. I row 4 to 5 days a week. I am on a Master’s training plan. I’ve been eating bars for dinner. I’m not getting a normal sleep schedule. I feel okay about it. The other perk is that two of my friends are getting married that night. Several people who are in the champ category have had to choose between racing and wedding. The Masters single is 8:30 on a Saturday morning, I can race and then make it to the wedding. It is a major perk that I did not anticipate when I decided to do this.
You mentioned expectations. Your parents both come from a rowing background. Your mother was an Olympic rower. She competed in the Women’s Coxed Quad Sculls in the 1976 Olympics. Your father, Gregg, was a top US scholar in 1980 and would have been on the Olympic team had the US not boycotted the Moscow Olympics. I was on the US National Rowing team. Your mother coached your high school team. Your dad is your coach and has been your coach for a while. What is the family dinner like?
Funny you asked that because we always say rowing is a banned dinner table conversation in our house because my sister and brother have had enough about the fact that the other three of us can talk about it forever and it will take over if it is even mentioned. We say it’s banned. We do not usually discuss rowing. Occasionally, it will come up but it gets shot down quickly because someone says, “No rowing talk at the dinner table.” We do talk about it but it’s usually not at dinner.
I was lucky though because my parents put no pressure on me to row. In fact, I avoided rowing at first because it was their thing and I didn’t want to do what my parents did. I went to high school that had rowing. I start rowing in ninth grade. It was treated the same as every other sport. I said, “I’m not doing that. I’m playing soccer and lacrosse. That’s what my friends are doing. That’s what I’ve been doing for all of middle school. You guys rowed. Rowing is your thing. Rowing is not cool. I don’t want to do that.”
I played soccer in my freshman year and I’m pretty terrible at soccer. I started playing when everyone started playing, 1st grade, 2nd grade. I was uncoordinated as a kid. I couldn’t make up the ground that I lost in elementary school. In my sophomore year, I said, “I’m terrible at soccer. You guys are pretty good at rowing. Maybe I’ll be okay at this.” I rowed in my sophomore Fall and had a ton of fun.
It was a novice season. You’re thrown together in eights. We rowed in terrible weather that Fall. We told ourselves the pilgrims because it felt like it was always rainy and windy. We felt tougher than any other sport at the school. That Spring, I still played lacrosse. I was like, “Rowing is a Spring sport. I’m not going to do it in the Spring. I’m not a rower.”
My parents put no pressure on me. They said, “You do what you want to do. If you want to play lacrosse, great.” If I had decided I didn’t want to play a sport, they probably would have encouraged me to play a sport in some capacity. They did not care at all which sport that was. I’m lucky because I chose rowing on my own. I did that Spring and I said, “Sophomore year is when the good girls make varsity. Some of them go on playing college. If I make varsity this year, maybe I’ll play lacrosse all four years of high school. If I don’t make varsity, I probably do not have a chance of this going anywhere and I’ll switch to rowing.”
I didn’t make varsity. I always say it’s the best failure that ever happened to me. You learn from all failures but that one, in particular, was great because I said, “I’ll finish out the season.” It was fun. I love playing lacrosse but I did switch to rowing full-time. By full-time, I mean the Fall and the Spring. I did not row at all in the winter.
The worst part of Boston and rowing is the winter sessions.
It’s because rowing was my choice and I was not at all forced into it but it wasn’t even pushed into it by my parents, it was something that I learned to love for my own reasons and grew into in my way. I never had any resentment towards them about the fact that I chose to do it because it was something that was entirely up to me. It’s a lesson in life when you’re trying to get someone to do something hands-off. My dad does joke that they did want me to row, they told me that years down the road. He was like, “We were hands-off and you made the right decision and you came to rowing. Look where it’s brought you. We were hands-off regarding the college process. I thought you would make the right decision to end up at Harvard and then you went to Princeton.” As if it was this big failure.
You got 1 of the 2 right.
My siblings both went to Harvard. It was fine. He got his feel of thing a Harvard parent and Princeton was the right school for me. Ultimately, everything worked out the way it should. It is a lesson in the end. Not getting pushed into it was the best way to handle it.
I want to ask about your relationship with your dad. Your dad’s buddy is also your coach. This is personal to me because my daughter started picking up team sports in 2020. She’s playing lacrosse. She tried soccer and was equally as terrible as I was. Now she’s playing basketball. These are the conversations we’re having.
I constantly have to, “Being super type A you got to get out there. You got to train. You got to work hard. Here’s all the equipment. We’ve set you up for success.” I always have to try to step back and say, “You got to let her grow on her own.” Can you talk about the relationship with your dad and how that’s worked as your coach the advantages that it’s brought to you but also some of the challenges that you’ve encountered?Hard things bond people together in a tighter way than easy things do. Click To Tweet
My mom coached my high school. It helped me later in life with my dad that I’d been coached by my mom as a junior. Many people are coached by their parents playing youth sports in elementary school and it’s added a fun level. Being coached by my mom in high school, we were taking it seriously enough. We competed at Nationals.
Many people were thinking about rowing in college. We found out in my junior or senior year. While I’ve been growing a little bit, she’d always been good about making things fair when I decided I wanted to switch sides because I looked at the lineup and said, “There are many more ports and starboards. I have no chance of making the first boat on that side. I’m going to switch.” That was all me. It was me looking at the roster.
She went to the whole team and said, “Gevvie has come up to me and asked to switch sides. Anyone can choose to switch sides, just approach me.” She made sure everything was equitable, which I very much respect. Occasionally, I could be the brat and more of a daughter than a typical rower and say, “We did an Erg test.” I’m probably a little bit whinier than you want your athletes to be as a coach. Sometimes I got my way. Sometimes I had logic behind me.
Most importantly, we had a series of bad practices and I remember driving home with her in the car and pestering her about it non-stop. She turned to me one day when we got home and said, “I’m your mom at home. I’m your coach at the boathouse. We need to separate those two. You need to ride home with Alexis from now on,” which is a friend of mine who was also on the team and lived in Newton as well.
After practice, even though my mom was right there going from the boathouse to our house, I drove home with my friend, Alexis, from the boathouse to our house. She lived only a mile away. It wasn’t too inconvenient. Having that separation time led to my ability in separating the roles and treating them differently. Later, going on to having my dad as a coach also helped to be able to separate him as a father from him as a coach. That was an important lesson to have because we’ve spent a lot of time together over the last couple of decades. I don’t think it would have worked out as well had we not been able to do that.
The lines blur. I’m lucky. A single scholar spends a lot of time with their coach if they get along with them because they don’t have teammates to hang out with. When the other boats would have their pre-race meetings the night before, my dad is a minimalist when it comes to talking. He trusts me to know what time we race and what time I need to get there. There’s not a ton of planning going. We would go out for ice cream. The other lines are blurred because not many coaches take their athletes out to ice cream. We always talked about the race over ice cream. There’s a little bit of blurring.
In terms of taking what he said and critical things, in terms of what he said to me in the water but also challenging things in terms of what he’s demanding from the training plan and being able to separate those from being a dad was important to our success. It’s also important that it started gradually. Some of it was my initiation. I came to med school in the Fall of 2008 and thought I was done rowing. My parents encouraged me to keep rowing because they said, “You’ve been a student-athlete for a long time. You do well as a student-athlete. You probably should keep working out.” They were 100% right. I was a much happier person when I got my outdoor and exercise time and a better student.
It started as a gradual encouragement. It’s like, “What workouts are you doing? I’ll join you on Saturday. Let’s do this together.” He’s my casual training partner. That winter, I went to him and I was like, “This is what I should do.” Together, we collaborated on the training plan. That’s how it was for the first year. He then started making the training plan more but I got to edit it and move it around depending on my school schedule or weather. When I took time off from school, Charley Butt was coaching me technically. He’s a great technical coach.
I had a lot of progress leading in the 2011 World Championships but they did not go as well as I wanted. That’s when my dad took over. As opposed to being in the single sometimes and helping with the training plan, he was doing everything when we started again in that Fall of 2011. He was the one coming out in the launch for practices. When I say coming out in the launch practices, I mean he came out in the launch 1 to 2 practices a week.
People assume that a coach is there all the time when you’re rowing. When you row the single, the boat teaches you a lot. You also need time to process and make improvements. You’re the only person getting attention when the coach is there. We found that the perfect balance was to have one technical row together to work on drills and improvements and then for my pieces to have him out for one of the big piece days of the week.
For the majority of my rowing career, he was out in the launch twice a week with me. The steady side sessions would be on my own and the hard sessions were with the Masters’ guys that I trained with. Sometimes my dad was in the single, double, in the launch for that and sometimes he wasn’t there. He always trusted me. Part of the father-daughter relationship is that he knows me well enough to trust me and to know that I’m going to do everything I can to be successful in this. We have great communication, a lot of trusts and the ability to separate the two roles.
Trust and confidence are such an incredibly important part of this sport. This partnership between you and your dad has made you a three-time Olympian. You went to the 2012 games in London. You placed seventh. You went to the 2020 games in the double. In 2016, you won the silver medal. It’s an incredible achievement. I want to start in 2008. Your Olympic career after that started with you being cut from the national team. Can you talk a little bit about that, the resiliency that you needed and how your dad stepped in and helped?
Rowing had always been something that I worked hard at. Don’t get me wrong but it was something that I always found success in. In high school, I was in the top boat and we won Nationals. In my freshman year in college, I was in the freshman boat and we won Sprints. My sophomore year was a parenthesis because I had knee surgery. My junior and senior years were successful. I was on the varsity at Princeton. I went to an under 23 team and won two World Championships. Everything had been this uphill progression without any major hiccups.
I was invited to go to the 2008 camp by Tom Terhaar, the national team coach because of all the under-23 success and the success at Princeton. I underestimated the mental, physical and emotional demands of training with the national team in an Olympic year. The attitude on a college team is different from a national team in two important ways.
One is that you have another outlet for your stress in college and an outlet for your interests. You have school in addition to sports. Sports is not your one and only because school is also very important. Having the ability to balance one of the other is critical to being a healthy student-athlete. The second is that in college everyone races. The 1st, 2nd, 4th boat races are the women’s team. In every single boat contributes to the points. Every single person is a full member of the team.
On the national team, you make it or you don’t. Over half the team will not race, which makes the process more cutthroat. It’s not this point system. Having the depth there brings the team up and makes the team faster but when it comes down to it, only some of the women will race and everyone else sits at home and watch. I don’t think I was mature enough to wrap my head around that going into the team immediately after graduating in the Fall of 2007.
I was excited. I was this fresh newbie and was like, “This is fun. I got to row full-time.” I took Biochem at Rutgers and applied to med school on the side. I began to realize it over the course of the year without probably fully processing it. I began to put a lot of pressure on myself. I began to get stressed about it to think about it as a job. By the end of that year, it did feel like a job. It was something that I should do because I was good at it. I wasn’t having fun at practice.
I didn’t make the team. I shouldn’t have made the team. I wasn’t fast enough to make the team. I got into med school and I was going to Tufts in the Fall. I came home and told my parents, “I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes. I’ve had a great career. I won at Belize. I won 223 championships. I had a great career. It’s okay to stop now. I’m going to med school in the Fall.” This is when my parents encouraged me to row but they said, “Row for fun. Stay active. You have a single. We gave it to you as a graduation present from college. Please, use it. Do it for fun.”
I took a big step away from rowing in the Summer. I went back to my Summer camp with a camp counselor. For seven weeks, I didn’t touch a boat. That’s a different story. It did help to my return to mental and emotional full strength. I started medical school in the Fall and I was rowing for fun. I raced the Head of the Textile, Head of the Tonic and Green Mountain. I had all these races that some of them have more entries than others. In some of them, there were three of us racing. I was racing against two freshmen from UMass. I hadn’t had much experience in the single but I had graduated from Princeton and won 203 championships. I beat a freshman from UMass by a lot. It was fun. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t racing on a pass. It was like, “I won by a minute. That’s fun. It doesn’t matter if there was no competition. This is so fun.”
It’s building your confidence back.
Head Of The Charles came and that was the first year I won Head Of The Charles in the Champ Single. To this day, I can remember exactly how I felt rowing on the way back through Eliot bridge. I was across from CBC and Fred Schoch came out on the balcony and said, “Gevvie, you won.” I remember this feeling of pure joy. I remember my smile hearing that and emotion flooding through me. That is when it lit the fire again. I’m like, “I love this. I do want to pursue this more.”
That emotion has not gone away. I see it in you.
I’ve had times where it went away. It’s been several years since then. There have been ups and downs and frustrating times and times when it takes all of my mental energy to get off the couch and go to practice. That was the spark that ignited the desire to pursue trying for London, which I thought would be becoming Olympian, checking that box, enjoying the process and then moving on back to med school. We know it didn’t end there.
In 2016, you go to London.
I did choose a med school. I took two years off. I went to London. I qualified through the Last Chance Regatta. Going and being there was incredible. Having qualified, finishing seventh, beating women that I’d never beaten before. Donata had beaten me by one place at every race prior to international. I beat her by one in London. She’s a wonderful human. It’s fun to beat people you’ve never beaten. I finished seventh, which means you’re winning to be final. It’s fun to cross the line first. I was at the Olympics. It was fun. People said to my dad, “She could be on the podium in Rio.” These were not just some people. These were Teti, Spracklen, big names in the rowing coaching world.
Head coaches of national teams.
I laughed at him. I said, “That is ridiculous. I had the best race of my life and I finished seventh. Seventh is not on the podium.”
“Can I enjoy the moment please?”
I was like, “I’m going back to med school. Don’t be ridiculous.” It did set off this question in my head. It was more than a spark. It was like a tickle. It’s like, “Could I take time off again?” I told my med school that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m like, “Could I be on the podium? There’s no way I could be on the podium.”
I kept getting faster through London and I was still having a ton of fun training. Ultimately, when everyone was deciding what they’re doing for residency, I went to the Dean in med school and said, “I know I told you it was as a once in a lifetime opportunity but it might be a twice in a lifetime opportunity. I want to take time off again.” We worked out a plan. I graduated in 2014 and then took two years off to train full-time and then didn’t start applying to residency till after Rio.Being a successful rower is more up to the mental side of things than the physical side of things. Click To Tweet
When you were in the Rio Games, the heat was one of the more challenging races that you’ll ever see in a rowing event and a freak storm blew in. Can you talk a little bit about what we call the uncontrollable aspect of that? Much of this sport is predicated on having flat water and relatively little wind. You are in a Women’s Single. By the nature of it, it’s probably the lightest boat out there. It’s the most susceptible to these conditions. Yet, here you are having to race in conditions that would shut down the majority of any competition.
They should have shut down the competition. It was a freak storm. Also, it was glass when I launched. There was no wind. The wind in Rio was known to do this, it kicked up quickly to a strong point. The nature of the water there is that it would get wavy. It would get swells when the wind kicked up because of the shape of the lagoon and the mountains around it.
The first heat of the Men’s Single got off in perfect conditions and then the wind kicked up. When we were at the starting line, we did not know what we were in for because it was a cross tailwind. The first 500 meters of that race was fast. We knew it would get rough towards the finish line and we did not know how rough.
In that third 500, I remember in the third quarter of the race, I was trying not to flip. There are two points where my boat entirely stopped and I was saying, “Keep moving.” It’s like a little kid on a bicycle, “Keep pedaling because you’re much more stable when you move as opposed to when you’re stationary.” It was like, “Get to quarter slide. Get the blade in and get the blade out.” I was thinking these basic rowing things, “Blade in and blade out. Get the legs down. Keep moving.”
The foundational elements.
In the back of my head, I was like, “Why are we doing this? How is this my Olympic heat? This is ridiculous.” It ended up being one of the closer races I had. I nipped fee at the line. We were a second apart in these crazy conditions, which is bizarre. I was moving my hands around afterward because my forearms had seized. I hadn’t used my legs. It was all death grip on the oars.
Fortunately, they did learn later on that they could postpone races and could move the schedule around to have raceable conditions. There’s a difference between being windy and being able to race in it, which it was in Tokyo. Tokyo got windy. There were crabs and excitement but it was always rowable. The water never got too textured versus what Rio was but it was exciting. It made for a lot of people commenting and it brought some viewers who are rowing. They were like, “Please do coastal rowing. People love this.”
You mentioned the foundational elements of the sport. I mentioned I felt that rowing for me had set the conditions for a lot of success. You said, “Rowing is a repetitive motion. It’s simple but to do it well is difficult. Even though it hurts like hell, you have to convince yourself to push even harder.” Can you talk about this sport and how this sport forces the athlete to think about individual performance and team performance?
Also, to think about compatibility with other athletes, mental toughness, the discipline that is required to wake up every morning before the sunrise and the preparation. You even spoke about the trust and confidence that your dad had. Even as a single scholar, much of it is on you. All of these factors, all these words that I threw out, characteristics, values, they’re what make great leaders. Many great leaders come off of rowing teams at all different levels. I’m interested in your thoughts on why.
Rowing is hard. What I found in life is that hard things bond people together in a tighter way than easy things. A med school class bonds over Anatomy, which is one of the most challenging classes we take. In rowing practice, it’s the grueling sessions that bond the team together and not the easy rows having that shared experience.
In addition to that emotional connection to other people, being a successful rower is more up to the mental side of things than the physical side of things. It’s because of that you get a group of people who aren’t just physically strong but who have the mental discipline and focus to attack it every day. Much rowing is in the head. It’s not just thinking about the technical things but also thinking about the perseverance aspects of mental talk, sports performance and pushing through pain.
It’s because of that mental side of things, it draws people to the sport who are conscientious about it. People who are successful, if they’re thinking about the sport in that way, are also going to be thinking about other ways to improve and to get stronger and one of those is the team and team culture. It’s not necessarily a fun sport all the time.
Sometimes it’s horrible.
You end up with a group of people through the difficulties and also to each other who are committed to it. It cultivates this unique group of individuals who then go through a series of difficult times together, bringing together a special bond. That creates a strong team dynamic and a special group of people.
There’s a big process to rowing. You and I spoke about the process when we met. You went into the 2020 and 2021 Tokyo games. In the trials, you ended up placing second. You switched over into the double sculls and your partner was Kristi Wagner. You went into the double. That’s a big difference than being in the single.
You ended up rowing through that competition. You told me that you didn’t necessarily have the result that you had hoped for but you left it all out there. You stuck to your process. You believed in the process. As you’ve had to step away from the competition and you look back and you reflect on your career in the Olympic Games, how does it feel?
To be honest, with residency, I haven’t had a ton of time to reflect and look back. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but it’s kept me busy, which is wonderful. I’ve acknowledged to myself that the extra year in 2021 was the most challenging year I’ve ever had. In the midst of it, I would acknowledge that it was difficult but it wasn’t that different than the years before. Now that it’s done, I’m able to acknowledge that it was significantly more difficult for me than the other years of training.
My freshman coach in college gave us the date of sprints on the first day of practice and said, “Embed this in your memory because your body and mind will be ready on that day if you think about it every day.” There’s a lot to be said for the subconscious and things that you’re aware of. I had been aware for so long of July 2020 as the end date. I’ve been looking forward to starting residency. I love rowing but doing other things.
It was postponed a year. Those several months for someone on the end of the career side of things, were a significant challenge. I was always a competitive person. When it came to peace days, those are almost the easiest. Some of the steady-state rows were harder to focus and get my body to harness that old woman’s strength as they say. It was harder physically on my body than the year prior had been. It was harder mentally and emotionally.
The wonderful difference on the upside was that I had a group of people to train with. I trained with Cicely Madden who I rowed within 2019 and a few other people that come to Boston. With COVID, the group that we had in Boston had cemented. We had a strong group. We had about 4 to 6 all Fall. We had 7 going to Texas and then 6 leading up to double trials.
The rest of the people had never been on an Olympic team before. Most of them were new to the elite level. We’re excited about training at this level. Everything was still new and they were making improvements quickly because that’s the stage we were anchored at. Their improvement curve was steep. It was wonderful to have their excitement.
Moving into the double was the same thing with Kristi. She was improving every day. She was focused every day. She brought this energy to it that made me more excited to do it. I couldn’t have asked for a better year in my career to have been in the double because it helped me strengthen my weaknesses if that makes sense.
The things that I was needing were the things that Kristi and the group added. Having that excitement was exactly the right form. It was the right time and place for me to be in a double and a new goal, a new challenge, something else to focus on. It’s hard and not easy to row with someone else. Not only just the technical aspects of rowing together but the communication and the teamwork aspects. Kristi made it as easy as it could be. We came to practice every day wanting to improve and with intent and put it all on the table in that run-up to Tokyo.
Looking back, you think about different things that motivate you. Getting cut from 2008 really lit a fire and anger in me to prove myself in 2012. I always loved rowing but I was a little bit angry. I’m like, “I can be fast, too.” Leading up to Rio, people said that I could be on the podium and I doubted them. Also, people doubted me. It was always hyped up as Emma versus Kimmy. I was the underdog the whole time. My whole singles career through Rio, I was the underdog. I thrived off of that.
Coming into 2020, it was a new situation because I was often going to trials in 2019 against Kara. She’s fast. All of a sudden, I wasn’t the underdog anymore because I was the silver medalist. I don’t know if she was an underdog either but we were definitely on par and everyone was like, “This could be mano a mano. Gevvie versus Kara.” In 2019, I psyched myself out of trials. I didn’t have a great race, mentally or physically. That was disappointing. I had fun racing at double but I wanted to have another race to prove that I can do it in the single because I love the single.
Fortunately, I did have another chance. Not only do we have a little intrasquad Regatta in the Summer of 2020, which was probably the fastest singles time that I’ve ever rowed. It was hilarious because the Charles River is not fast. I also got to race at Charles again and it was wonderful to get back in the single. The motivation is different. People need to find what fuels them up.
I worked well as the underdog and it was a challenge for me to twist that into something new. Especially in the single and then getting in double, it was a new challenge. When you’re in a boat with someone else, there’s this peer pressure. You have to work hard because they’re working hard. That’s exactly what I needed. It was the time and place that having that new energy and new goal helped me to rise to the occasion.
Gevvie, as we close out, the Jedburghs had to do three things in World War II as foundational core competencies, their foundational elements to be successful. They had to shoot, move and communicate. If they did these three things at a high degree of competence and confidence every day, whatever complex challenges came their way, they can be able to focus their attention there and solve them. What are the three things that you do every day to be successful?
It’s easier for me to think about the three things that I was doing as an elite athlete to be successful. I got up every morning and I had a ten-minute stretching routine. It was also a little bit of a mental stretching routine going through the same motions to wake my body up and feel better physically but also excited about the day.
I always thought about what my goal for the practice was, whether it was technical, mental, physical, I had one specific goal. There are always so many things you can work on and those are always in the back of your head, too. One major goal that was going to be was whether it was squaring up earlier or trying to fly and die. That was a piece of advice that Mahé Drysdale gave me years back that made a big difference.People need to find what fuels them up. Click To Tweet
The third is writing in the workout log and reflecting on what I’ve done and using it as a chance to improve and being honest with myself about how the workout went and whether I achieved my own expectations. Something that I’ve always focused on is how I did relative to what I am capable of at the moment. There’s no use comparing me now to me a couple of months ago. I’m a resident. I’m sleeping less and eating terribly. Even if I go out and do pieces now, am I giving it my all? Am I rowing as well as I can? What am I capable of in this moment on this day?
I’m being honest. Sometimes I would grade myself A through F. How did I do relative to what I am capable of? That got complicated and I went to check plus and check minus system, which is much simpler. I don’t give myself a lot of check pluses because you have to have an exceptional day to reach your potential. I also don’t have a lot of check minuses because I do all the other things to focus on practice.
In terms of the rest of my life and being successful, there are things I do every day. I do have a gratitude journal and that was something that I started as a Summer camper when I was nine years old. I originally only did it during the Summers in vacations. I started doing it full-time probably in high school and came back to it in 2008 after not making the team.
I realized that it is critical to focus on the small things that make us happy every day. It could be silly things. It’s like, “I had all green lights in the way to work or my coffee was especially hot from the place.” It’s minor things but they make me happier. Sometimes it’s things that other people do. It’s like, “I saw this person do this for another person and that makes me happy.” That’s one.
Stretching is still something I do to be successful and to be mentally and physically prepared for the day in general. Lastly, communicating is critical. Not just communicating about strategy but being in touch with the people you care about. I’m always texting, emailing or talking with friends and family and expressing things whether you’re stressed or thrilled. I’m a talker. Talking out my emotion helps me to understand my own emotion and then helps me be more successful and better prepared to conquer the day.
Mental and physical stretch set the goals for the day, reflect, express gratitude and understand your results. I say all the time and you said it, “No one cares about what you did yesterday. It’s about what you do today to be successful tomorrow.” That’s our motto here on the show. That’s what we strive for. Communication is critical.
We have the nine characteristics of elite performance. We talk about them in every episode. They’re a core tenant of everything, drive, resiliency, humility, integrity, curiosity, effective intelligence, emotional strength, team ability and adaptability. You exhibit drive to me, this need for improvement, need for achievement, growth mindset, be better tomorrow than I am today and put everything into doing that.
You said, “I’ve seen more sunrises now than most people see in their life.” That requires the utmost dedication, commitment, preparation and discipline. There are a few things in this world that are more beautiful than the sunrise over Boston and the Charles River. Before the commotion of the city, the chaos of the day, the still water, the sound of your blood, sweat and tears are ingrained in that river forever. Sometimes the journey is as rewarding as the result. You’ve shown us both. I commend you for everything you have achieved in this sport. It’s truly an honor to spend time with you. Thank you and good luck. We’ll be out there.
Thank you very much. See you at the Head Of The Charles.
About Gevvie Stone
Gevvie Stone is an Olympic rower from Newton, Massachusetts. She has competed in the 2021, 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, winning the Silver Medal in 2016 in the Women’s single skulls. She is a nine time US National Team member and was US Rowing’s 2016 Athlete of the Year. Gevvie is among the winningest athletes in the history of Boston’s Head of The Charles Regatta, the premier international rowing competiton in the world. She has won the Women’s Championship Single 10 times, including six straight victories between 2014-2019. Gevvie has also won the race mutliple times at the Collegiate and high school levels. Both of Gevvie’s parents were members of the U.S. National Rowing Team. Her mother, Lisa, coached her along with her high school team at the Winsor School. Her father Gregg is now her coach. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Tufts University School of Medicine. She is currently an emergency medicine resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.