By Kim Constantinesco
If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of U.S. rowing silver medalist Gevvie Stone. She’s the one moving swiftly on top of the water and up the ranks in medicine.
The 31-year-old doctor from Newton, Mass. has balanced Olympic training and medical school and impressed everyone along the way, managing not to tip the proverbial boat.
“There are a number of rowers turned physicians, and I think that we could all be classified as headstrong and ambitious,” Stone said. “I think that seems to work well for competing as a rower and being a good physician.”
Long before Stone completed medical school at Tufts University in 2014, she knew she wanted to be a doctor.
“I had knee problems starting in middle school,” Stone said. “I went to an orthopedist and I walked out of the clinic and said, ‘Mom, I want to be just like them when I grow up.'”
And the dream stuck. Now that the six-foot tall aspiring orthopedic surgeon has earned her medal in Rio, she’s applying to residency programs all over the country, pursuing her other passion.
“I like being a people-person, helping people, and doing some good in the world, but at the same time, I enjoy the constant challenge,” Stone said. “Medicine is constantly changing, and there’s always something to be done.”
Rowing Through The Teen Years
You might say Stone was born to row. Her mother and high school coach, Lisa Stone, competed in the coxed quadruple scull at the 1976 Olympics. Her father and current coach, Gregg Stone, likely would have competed in the Olympics as well if the U.S. didn’t boycott the Moscow games in 1980 to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
However, Stone took to field sports first. She played soccer and lacrosse to start high school before switching to rowing full time her junior year.
“I think the teamwork aspect of rowing is what really appealed to me when I was learning to row,” Stone said. “In rowing, the whole team is working together at maximal effort at the same time. For me, there was something very unique and bonding about that experience. I loved the feeling that I was able to push myself harder than I thought possible because I was doing it for the other people in the boat, and I knew they were doing the same thing for me.”
Her high school team won national championships her junior and senior year, but it wasn’t all smooth waters for the teenager whose mom coached the team.
“With my mom, it was definitely a little bit tricky because she didn’t want to play favorites, and I think I felt more comfortable with my coach as a high school rower than most do,” Stone admitted. “I talked back probably more than she deserves. At the same time, she made it very clear that I had to have results that clearly showed that I deserved a spot on the team. I had to perform if not to the level of everyone else, above it, to earn a spot in a certain boat. That was really good for me, I think.”
In order to embed a buffer in the duel relationship that Stone had with her mom, she rode home from practice with a friend. That way, when they got home, “My mom was my mom, not my coach.”
Stone went on to row at Princeton University, where the collegiate accolades and championship wins piled up. As a junior there, she helped a boat of eight to an undefeated season.
Her future in the sport was looking bright.
Prioritizing For Success
She trained for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but she didn’t make the roster. So, she enrolled at Tufts University School of Medicine where she studied for two years before taking a couple of years off to to focus on her preparation for the 2012 Games in London. She made the team, but being fairly new to international competition, she didn’t have any expectations to be on the podium. She finished seventh, and enjoyed the “soak it all in” experience.
Upon returning from London, Stone was sure she wasn’t going to train for Rio.
“Because I had taken two years off from medical school to focus on rowing, I had promised myself that when I returned to school, medicine was the No. 1 priority,” Stone said.
During her third year of medical school, rowing took a back seat. There were stretches, depending on which rotation she was on, when she would work out just one to two times per week. She would use any spare time she had for training, doing 20-minute body circuits or short workouts (20-40 minutes) on the erg. Once rotations ended in the spring of 2014, her attention shifted to rowing primarily, but she still did some research and worked in a sports medicine clinic.
“Because I committed to postponing residency, I wanted to make the most of that choice (and possible sacrifice). I made rowing the only priority.” Stone said. “By shifting the medicine-rowing balance more to rowing, not only was I getting three more practices in a week compared to 2012, but I was able to recover better.”
The Rio Buildup
The hype leading up to Rio was a lot, but once Stone arrived, her nerves settled, especially once she saw that the city was ready and the storybook mountains provided a beautiful backdrop.
“I think the athletes were prepared for the worst because of where the media had set our expectations,” Stone said. “The city generally over–exceeded my expectations. Rooms were clean, the water seemed clean, no one got sick, and there weren’t many mosquitoes.”
The sport garnered a lot of attention ahead of the Games due to its athletes being required to compete on the water in order to earn a medal.
“The Junior World Championships were in Rio in the summer of 2015,” Stone said. “I knew that a number of the U.S. rowers had gotten sick, but the other countries stayed pretty healthy. The U.S. rowers had a bunch of other factors involved in getting sick, so I had my suspicions that the water wasn’t as horrible as they made it out to be. I also know that a lot of the bodies of water that I have rowed on in the U.S. aren’t the cleanest. The Charles River is clean now, but when my dad was on it in the 1970s, it was not. Dirty water isn’t entirely new to rowers.”
Stone was able to put the health concerns aside to take second place in single sculls.
“In Rio, I definitely enjoyed the experience, but I think it was a bit more about performance compared to London. I had a realistic goal of getting up to the podium, and doing so was just incredible. There’s really no way to explain it. It was more than I could have ever imagined.”
As a silver medalist, she’s the perfect person for young rowers to look to for advice. Twice a year, she returns to her old high school, where her mother still coaches, to talk with the girls.
“One of the reasons I do it is because I think I’ve gained so much from the sport that I hope to give back by sharing my experiences and mentoring,” she said. “I think if the girls learn through rowing to aim high and work toward their goals, that’s a valuable lesson for life in general.”
Stone is currently coaching the Harvard women’s program, which gives her yet another challenge to work through.
“It’s rewarding and also kind of frustrating. As an athlete, I have so much control over what I do. As a coach, it’s a new challenge to communicate technique, to see those things with the eye, and to understand the flow of the boat without being in the boat. But, it’s great working with the girls.”
With residency coming up, Stone doesn’t anticipate a push for the 2020 Olympics, but “I’ve learned never say ‘never,’ especially in the sport of rowing,” she said.
And, even if the row does not go on, the show most certainly will.