Dr. Genevra “Gevvie” Stone, 32, is an Olympic silver medalist in rowing and a veteran of the Head of the Charles Regatta, which she will compete in again this year on Oct. 21-22. Born and raised in Newton, she began her rowing career as a student at the Winsor School and then earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, where she was a member of the 2006 NCAA Champion Eight. In 2006 and 2007, she won the Under-23 World Championships in the eight and quad competitions. She earned her medical degree from Tufts in 2014 while continuing to row, representing the U.S. in the singles at the 2010 World Cup. Since then she has earned three World Cup medals and competed in three World Championships and two Olympics, earning a silver medal in Rio. Last year, she tied the record for the most wins (7) in the championship single event at the Head of the Charles Regatta. She will begin a residency in emergency medicine in 2018 and plans to pursue a fellowship in sports medicine.
Jonathan Soroff: Worst part of crew practice growing up?
Gevvie Stone: The weather. We’d see all the field hockey and lacrosse players, and their practice would be canceled because of rain. Our coach, who was my mom, would say, “Nope! We’re like ducks. We love the rain!” And we didn’t actually love the rain. The Charles River in October can be brutal. We used to joke that we knew what it was like for the pilgrims. Wet, windy and cold. Uccchhhh.
One thing you most associate with the Charles River? Camaraderie. Rowing in Boston is so much bigger than most other cities, and it’s everyone from novices in high school to the masters. There are a number of Olympians out there every day, and then all of the high school crews, all of the college crews. There’s a concentrated amount of space, and everyone has to cooperate to make it work. It’s just really cool.
Nicest boathouse on the Charles? I’m partial because I row out of Weld. I actually think it is the nicest because it’s old and charming but also very well designed, and it doesn’t smell as much as Newell, which is Harvard’s men’s boathouse. Newell just smells like decades of male athletes not washing their clothes nearly enough.
Is knowing the river well your biggest home-course advantage? Yes. Knowing it, steering-wise, but also my friends. I have a lot of people who come out to support me. It’s loud as I go by, and it’s really motivational, but it’s also a lot of pressure.
Worst rowing injury? The injury that kept me out the longest wasn’t a rowing injury. I had knee surgery my sophomore year. I dislocated my kneecap for the umpteenth time walking down the stairs. And then I broke my leg my second year of med school. But you don’t get many contact injuries in rowing. I have hurt my back, and that’s kind of a chronic thing. Lower back and rib stress fractures are the most common rowing injuries, and I’ve been lucky enough to avoid a rib fracture.
How are your hands? Do you get regular manicures? Oh, God, no. They’d be destroyed in a second. That would be so pointless. You want your callouses, because they protect you from blisters. We had a talk with the team and a nutritionist last year, and they were trying to make people feel good about the fact that a lot of things about rowing are relatively unattractive, as far as typical female beauty ideals are concerned. I like my callouses. I know people think they’re disgusting, but that is years of hard work that has gone into my hands being that tough.
Grossest place you’ve ever capsized? Grossest? The Charles River. Most terrifying? Sarasota, Florida. There are alligators, and they are scary—even the small ones.
Most difficult place you’ve ever rowed? Interesting. Well, as far as wind and conditions go, Seattle is pretty rough. It has what’s called “the cut,” which is a 500-meter stretch where it’s kind of narrow and it’s concrete on both sides, with commercial boat traffic and wakes that echo forever. So it’s pretty brutal.
Ever tried outrigger canoeing or other paddle sports? I’ve been on a stand-up paddleboard a few times. I’ve tried sea kayaking. I’ve been in an old-fashioned canoe. So, yeah.
Can you row a dinghy or a rowboat? My summer camp had rowboat levels you had to pass, and I did not get super far. I was 11, and I was too weak to get myself back into the boat, so I didn’t pass my second crescent. Now, rowing a rowboat is surprisingly tricky because there are no collars on the oar locks, the way there are in rowing, so my instinct is always to push out on the oar, and on a rowboat, that winds up with the oar in the water.
Are you a beach or a mountain person? Well, I love the water, so I guess I’d pick a lake because you can get water and a mountain.
Favorite rowing scene from a movie? I’m waiting for Boys in the Boat to come out. It’s an amazing book, and they’ve been making it into a movie forever. So I’m hoping that when they finally do, it’ll be the best rowing scene ever in a movie.
Would you swim in the Charles? I’ve gone in willingly once, because I dropped my Garmin and I was like, “Ugh, it’s too expensive.” I got goggles and jumped in to find it, and it was so murky and black near the bottom, I immediately gave up.
Do you know every single bend in the Charles River? Some better than others. I don’t always do it perfectly. And, of course, not on race day because there are buoys and obstacles and boats out there. But there’s definitely a home-course advantage. The bridges actually scare international rowers more than the turns. The Australian single who won in Rio came to Boston the first time and said, “I think there were 19 bridges out there!”
How many are there? I should know this. If you count the BU Bridge as two—because one is a train bridge and the other’s for cars—there are seven, which is a lot on a 3-mile course.
Least favorite thing to see in the water? Well, I haven’t seen a dead body. Yet. Alligator is definitely near the top of the list. I hate snakes, and I’ve never seen one in the water, but the idea of them swimming is so creepy. But I guess dead fish. Those are always a bad sign, when you see a cluster of dead fish. It smells bad, and you know there’s something wrong with the water.
Favorite thing about practice? My teammates. Definitely. Whether it was driving to the boathouse, blasting music and having dance parties, even the rowing itself. I fell in love with the sport partially because, unlike soccer or lacrosse, where it’s either the offense or the defense, in rowing, it’s everyone, at 100 percent, working together at the same time. I think that’s one really special thing about rowing.
Do you prefer rowing single or as part of a crew? That’s hard. When I started, I loved the team aspect, and my first time in a single, I was miserable without the company. But then I started training with a group of other single scullers, and now, despite the fact that I’m in my own boat, I actually feel like I’m on a team.
Any superstitions or rituals before you compete? I was weirdly superstitious about ribbons throughout college; I wore the same ribbon in my hair. Then I lost it. Now, I eat ice cream the night before every race. And it’s such a thing that my father had to take me to like six different places in France to find ice cream before the semifinals.
What’s your diet like when you’re in competition mode? Are you super careful [Laughs.] No. I can eat so much. We burn so many calories. One of the perks of rowing is you can eat as much as you want. I eat 5,000 calories a day. Getting enough protein is a struggle for me, because I just love carbs so much. But lots of ice cream, yogurt, whatever.
Personality trait that’s most pronounced in rowers? Well, we’re known for being stubborn, because if you think about it, we’re doing the same thing over and over and over. You have to be persistent and stubborn to do anything that repetitive.
Best physical feature on rowers? Men or women? I had a college classmate who used to say, “Rowing turns men into gods and women into men.” So other than my callouses? Probably my back.
How much of rowing is physical, and how much is mental? A lot of it is mental. Of course, it’s very physical; it’s both an endurance sport and a power sport. So you have to be fit enough, but you also have to be tough enough to push yourself. It’s a close call, but I’d say it’s slightly more mental than physical.
How is it having your father as a coach? Well, it happened gradually, and there definitely were times when it was difficult, but especially in a single, you spend a lot of time by yourself. So it was great to have someone I could chat with, who understood me, and could hear me rant or be a spoiled brat or get excited. I think if it were someone who wasn’t my dad, it would have felt a lot more lonely. Another coach wouldn’t have indulged my ice cream superstition, either.
Ideal conditions for Head of the Charles? Well, there are two things: current and wind. No one really wants the current, because you want it to be a fair race, and the current is definitely stronger in the middle of the river. So you don’t want to force someone into a bad current patch. I personally like a little bit of headwind, although I can’t complain when it’s completely flat.
What goes through your head when you’re competing? Surprisingly basic thoughts. People talk about being in the zone, and I think it’s much easier to focus inward to get the most from myself. Also, I have to remind myself of technical things. So in a race, I’m thinking, “Leg, swing, leg, swing, leg, swing…” Over and over, it’s very simple one-word phrases. “Power, power, power…” I also count a lot, up to 10 and then back down. Because I can’t count past 10. [Laughs.]
Biggest thing novices do wrong? Try to use their upper body and their arms. In rowing, the seat moves, so it’s actually 70 percent legs. So the common misconception is that it’s an upper-body thing, and when they first start, people really try to yank with their backs instead of driving with their legs.
Any advice for first-timers at Head of the Charles? Have fun. Because it’s a big, important regatta, I think people get caught up in it, but they also need to understand that it’s such a celebration of rowing. There are so many awesome people enjoying it, whether they’re competing or just watching. It’s a cool course. It’s like a big festival, so enjoying the weekend and not getting too caught up in your race is a big part of it.
What’s the biggest difference between the Head of the Charles and a regatta like Henley Royal? I’ve rowed Henley three times. Henley is a one-on-one, side-by-side 2,200-meter race. A head race, like Head of the Charles, has staggered starts, so you don’t know where your competition is finishing compared to you. You’re really racing yourself, whereas at Henley, you’re playing a lot of mental games with your competition. The Head of the Charles is all mental games within yourself. International racing, like at the Olympics, is 2,000 meters. The Olympics is six lanes, with a starting line and a finish line. The buzzer goes off and that’s it. A head race, with staggered starts, is completely different.
One thing you always have with you when you compete? I have a sister who has struggled with bipolar disorder, and once on my birthday, when she was having an episode, she made me a bracelet. I always attach it to my shoe to remind me how lucky I am to be doing this. ◆