London Calling

Medical student Gevvie Stone pulls for a shot at the 2012 Summer Olympics

Gevvie Stone rows on the Charles

It is still dark when Genevra Stone, M14, arrives at Harvard’s Weld Boathouse for a Saturday morning row. Just two weeks after winning the women’s championship singles at this year’s Head of the Charles Regatta, Stone is working harder than ever.

Stone sets her light-as-air shell on the black water of the Charles River and alights into the narrow boat. With just a few strokes, she slips upstream, passing beneath the Lars Anderson Bridge, eventually gliding from view. To the east, Boston begins to glow.

A Tufts medical student, Stone is on an official leave from her studies in her quest for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Rowing Team and a chance to compete on the world stage in London next summer.

“She definitely is a real contender,” says Lori Dauphiny, head coach of Princeton’s women’s crew team for 15 years. “She proves herself on a regular basis. It’s really hard to tell who will make the team in an Olympic year, but she’s got a real shot, and not many people can say that.”

Though it is barely November, the air temperature hovers just above freezing. Swaddled in layers of spandex, Gore-Tex and fleece, Stone is undeterred by the pre-dawn conditions.

“There’s something really fun about going out, feeling horrible, but so satisfied afterwards,” she says. “There are definitely days when I think, ‘Why am I getting out of bed?’ But I am always happy after practice.”

The work is unrelenting. For the next hour and half, Stone trains with fellow rowers from the Cambridge Boat club as they do two three-mile runs at 28 strokes per minute along the Head of the Charles course. Stone has competed in the Head of the Charles—the world’s largest two-day regatta in which more than 8,000 athletes compete in 55 different events—nine times and won seven since her high school days at the Winsor School in Boston.

That’s no small feat on the Charles. The notoriously challenging course features a hairpin turn and six bridges that have been the scenes of countless race-ending crashes. Stone knows these waters so well that she is almost dismissive of her recent win—her second consecutive in the world’s largest two-day regatta—which she finished by an impressive 28 second-margin. 

“The more you row on a river, the more you’re comfortable with it,” she says. “I can probably steer down that course without looking more than once or twice.”

Stone’s boat is back in the rack by 9 a.m., but she’s not finished. She’ll lift weights midday, then maybe ride her bike or go for a run. Six or seven days a week she hews to a training regimen as rhythmic and precise as the pull of the oars along the river.

Head of the Class

Back in 2008, when Stone was applying to medical schools, she felt she should come clean about her Olympic aspirations. “Some schools really bristled,” Stone recalls. That wasn’t the case at Tufts, where Stone says she has felt supported by everyone from her admissions interviewer to the deans who approved her leave of absence. “At orientation we were told, ‘We admitted you because you are interesting.’ Tufts has really stood behind that, and I appreciate that,” she says.

Originally a member of the medical school’s class of 2012, Stone successfully navigated her coursework and rowing during her first two years in school, getting out on the river several times a week and lifting weights at the Tauber Fitness Center in the Sackler building.

Friends from the medical school support Genevra Stone, center in white, before the Head of the Charles regatta.Friends from the medical school support Genevra Stone, center in white, before the Head of the Charles regatta.
“Studying and working out balance each other,” she says. As an undergraduate at Princeton, her boat won the NCAA National Championships by an historic margin even as Stone maintained grades high enough to get into med school. “It makes you tired enough to sit still at a desk for hours and forces you to eat healthier and get more sleep.”

But as 2012 drew near, Stone knew she’d have to train full time to achieve her Olympic dream. In 2010, she put her medical education on hold and now aims to graduate with the class of 2014.

Stone’s classmates are rooting for her. She recalls a misspent study session where she mapped out the Olympic selection process and explained the finer details of the sport to her curious peers. Waving a homemade banner reading “Stone Rocks,” about a dozen of them lined the riverbank to cheer her on to her Head of the Charles victory this fall. “They have been amazing supporters the whole way through,” she says.

The Natural

At six feet tall, Stone is lean and lithe. Her arms and legs are long and fluid, no doubt contributing to the superb rowing form and technique for which she is known. Gathering her equipment for her row—shoes, stopwatch, water bottle—she moves like a heron along the banks of the Charles. Growing up, though, Stone thought of herself as “a total klutz, not an athlete at all.” She washed out of her town soccer league and was “not graceful enough” for tap dancing or figure skating. Her freshman year of high school, she played lacrosse, mainly to spend time with her friends after classes. Knowing she’d never be a star on the field, she joined the crew team her sophomore year. She took to it, well, like a duck to water.

Her newfound talent may have come as a surprise to Gevvie, as friends and family call her, but likely not to her parents, both world-class rowers. In 1977, her father, Gregg Stone, won the men’s singles championship at the Head of the Charles, while her mother, Lisa Stone, took the women’s singles. After representing the United States at the 1976 Olympics and at consecutive World Championships, Lisa Stone went on to become head coach at Radcliffe and then at the Winsor School, the all-girls private high school Gevvie attended.

Despite her pedigree, Stone never felt any pressure to follow her parents into the family business. “We never pushed her to row,” says Gregg Stone. “I wanted to inculcate in all my kids a joy of exercising outdoors, but I was completely agnostic about how they did that.” It was rowing out of Winsor’s Charles River boathouse—a little more than a mile from Harvard’s boathouses—that made Stone slowly but surely fall in love with the sport. By junior year, Stone was already getting used to success. After giving her all to win one race, she remembers being too physically exhausted to lift her boat from the water.

“The more you row on a river, the more you’re comfortable with it,” Genevra Stone says. “I can probably steer down that course without looking more than once or twice.” Photo: Alonso Nichols“The more you row on a river, the more you’re comfortable with it,” Genevra Stone says. “I can probably steer down that course without looking more than once or twice.” Photo: Alonso Nichols
“I was shocked at how far you can push your body to its limits,” she recalls. “And I remember being excited to do it again, as crazy as that sounds.”

Stone rowed in eights (a boat with eight rowers and a coxswain) and fours (with four rowers and a coxswain) through high school and college. But now, like her parents, Stone rows the single, which gave her the independence to attend medical school on the East Coast while the rest of the U.S. women’s team practiced in Princeton, N.J. It also allowed her to train with her dad as her coach.

Though it’s not Gregg Stone’s first coaching gig—he coached crew teams at Harvard and at the nearby Belmont Hill School—it might be the most challenging. “As a father, I have a tremendous amount of empathy for what she’s going through. As a coach, I have to push her to the point of discomfort,” he says.

Good thing he passed along to her his genetic predisposition for endurance. When she’s working hard, Gevvie produces less lactate—the metabolic by-product that produces muscle soreness—than most, which staves off fatigue and helps her recover more quickly between workouts, according to Gregg. “A lot of that is genetics, but it’s also trainable,” he says.

Gregg takes no credit for Gevvie’s beautiful technique, traits her mom was also known for.

“I don’t know how much genetics plays a role,” muses Lisa. “The reason a lot of girls like rowing is that hard work pays off. Gevvie is very, very disciplined. She just applies herself really well.”

Another Kind of Practice

While Stone might not have known early on that rowing was in her future, medicine was an early pull. She first considered a career in medicine as early as high school when knee problems landed her in an orthopedist’s office. A strong math and science student, Stone says becoming a doctor “was always in the back of my mind. When I went to Princeton, I knew I wanted to do the pre-med track.”

Even though she’s on leave from school, she has spent the last year working in the orthopedics practice of Arthur Boland at Massachusetts General Hospital. In addition to contributing to research on the anterior cruciate ligament—the notorious ACL—Stone is also getting her first taste of the clinic. Every Friday, Boland has her taking patient histories, conducting physical exams and reporting her findings to him before he repeats the process himself.

“She didn’t have much clinical experience when she started, but I can see immense progress in the way she approaches patients,” says Boland. “Those skills will carry over to whatever specialty she chooses.”

Though she won’t commit to a specialty before going through clinical rotations in her third and fourth years of school, sports medicine is clearly close to her heart. “I love working with athletes. I understand and connect to that patient population,” she says.

Rowing for the Gold

“Studying and working out balance each other,” Genevra Stone says.   Photo: Alonso Nichols“Studying and working out balance each other,” Genevra Stone says. Photo: Alonso Nichols
Alone on the river before sunrise, Stone mines her inner drive to pull harder, go faster. “Rowing is a great sport to push yourself, because it’s timed,” she says. “You’re competing with yourself in addition to the people you are racing against.”

After her Head of the Charles victory, three races still stood between Stone and the Olympics. Over Veteran’s Day weekend, she headed back to Princeton, N.J., to compete in U.S. Rowing’s Fall Speed Orders, which establishes ranking among the athletes on the U.S. national team. Stone took first place with a comfortable margin of more than 12 seconds. Next up is U.S. Rowing’s Olympic trials in Chula Vista, Calif., in April. A win there would earn Stone a trip to Lucerne, Switzerland, for a race rowers only half-jokingly refer to as the Last Chance Regatta. The top three rowers will compete in the Summer Games.

Stone is not new to the complicated selection process. It was one reason she missed making the Olympic team in 2008. “I was new to the whole thing, I didn’t know how the system works,” she says. “I also wasn’t very strong. I had come off four years in college and was competing with the athletes who had been training full time for three years. I just wasn’t mature enough mentally or physically as an athlete to deserve it.”

In some ways, medical school saved Stone’s rowing career. The intellectual stimulation and change of pace gave her the mental break she needed from the sport. Even a seeming setback in the form of a broken leg, sustained in a snowball fight in Harvard Square in 2009, proved motivating rather than discouraging. “I was slow coming back, but it also made me really enthused. Training on the rowing machine suddenly seemed so much more fun than it ever had before.”

In mid-January, Stone will head to the West Coast to join the rest of the U.S. Rowing team. Though it’s not unusual for singles rowers, Stone’s history of training by herself in Massachusetts makes her “a bit of an outsider,” according to Princeton’s Dauphiny. That’s just fine with Gevvie.

“I enjoy being the underdog,” she says. “I personally think it’s harder to be the person to beat.”

With her strong recent performances, that’s an adjustment Stone is going to have to make.

Jacqueline Mitchell can be reached at


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