It’s been eight years since an American won a medal in single sculls at the world rowing championships. Michelle Guerette’s bronze medal at the 2007 World Rowing Championships was a preview of more to come: an Olympic silver medal she won in Beijing in 2008.
It was the first Olympic medal for an American single sculler in 20 years.
Now Gevvie Stone has a good chance of doing the same. The 30-year-old rower, who finished seventh at the London 2012 Olympic Games, has jumped from a consistent B final qualifier to the front of the A final.
In world cup regattas this summer, she won silver and bronze medals.
And she did it after finishing medical school.
With her residency postponed until 2017, Stone — or we should say Dr. Stone — is poised for a top finish at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France. The championships begin Aug. 30, and the top nine women’s single sculls earn a 2016 Olympic berth for their nation.
So how did Stone jump from an also-ran at the London Games to a medal favorite, with a detour through Tufts University School of Medicine?
It all started in the lead-up to London. Originally, Stone had planned to retire after the London Games and return to medical school (she had stopped two years prior, taking time off to train for the 2012 Games). But as the London Games approached, she was still rowing faster and faster, and a number of coaches approached her and her father, Gregg Stone, also an Olympic rower who serves as her coach, and mentioned that they looked forward to seeing what Gevvie could do in the coming years.
“That is what started to put the thought in my head that I’m still getting faster and (I wondered) how much faster could I get?” Gevvie said by phone from the boathouse in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she trains.
But she also wanted to complete medical school, with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon. So two weeks after the Closing Ceremony in London, she returned to Tufts. Over the next two years, she only rowed when her schedule allowed.
“When it did come down to studying for an exam or doing an extra practice or doing a practice during third and fourth year, I really tried to put medical school ahead of rowing whenever I could,” she said. “I do want to be a good doctor and think it’s important to really dedicate yourself to what your goals are.”
She missed rowing though — missed the competition, being outside and using her body as much as her brain.
One day, she was talking to a friend who had graduated in her original med school class (2012).
“If you don’t take time off, and you go straight into residency, and you don’t do Rio, do you think you’ll regret it?” the friend asked.
“Yes,” Gevvie replied.
“If you end up not getting into an orthopedic residency and end up doing something else because you took this time off and it makes your application weaker, do you think you’d regret doing a different type of medicine?” her friend continued.
Gevvie realized that she would be happy pursuing primary care or sports medicine if a more rigorous orthopedic surgery residency doesn’t pan out.
“That was when I knew that taking time off again was the right thing to do,” she said.
She graduated from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2014 and immediately returned to competition, winning the first national selection regatta and earning a chance to compete at a world cup in Europe that summer.
|Gevvie Stone celebrates her bronze medal with her dad/coach, Gregg, at World Rowing Cup III on July 12, 2015 in Lucerne, Switzerland.|
“We really didn’t expect her to win the NSR 1,” said Gregg. “Gevvie went to Europe last summer without a lot of base.”
Even without that solid base of training, she made her first world cup A final that summer and finished ninth at the world championships in September 2014.
Then over the winter, Gevvie made some changes. She changed her rowing style so she gets more body angle, allowing her to use more than her legs with each stroke. And she switched boat manufacturers.
She also had a consistent year of training uninterrupted by classes or other demands.
“All these things built a base, although the base didn’t show at the national selection regatta (in May), where she was still rowing her old boat and we were doing some things wrong,” said Gregg. “She then moved into an Empacher (shell) and things started to look like they were coming together (in training). She had noticeably more speed, particularly going downwind.”
A month later, at the second world cup in Italy, “it turned out the speed was real,” added Gregg.
Gevvie finished second to 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Kim Crow from Australia. Crow also earned a silver medal in women’s single sculls at the 2014 worlds.
Three weeks later, Gevvie won a world cup bronze medal behind Crow and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Mirka Knapkova from the Czech Republic.
Now, headed to the 2015 world championships, Gevvie is one of the medal favorites. After spending most of her elite rowing career trying to qualify for the A final, she’s in a new position.
“We’re looking at the pack from a different side,” said Gregg. “We were looking at the pack trying to crack into it. Now we’re looking at the pack and saying we don’t want them to catch us. How do we get one or two notches up on the totem pole?”
“It feels a little unbelievable to me,” said Gevvie.
But she does not want to put the boat ahead of her oars, so to speak: “I think I come into the world championships in a good place, and I’m really fortunate to do that. I’ll have a good seeding, and I’ll have confidence. But there’s no certainty that I’ll be in the medals again. Everyone is going to be fighting so hard for it, and I don’t underestimate any of my competition.”
Her father sees a difference in her confidence and commitment in this quadrennium and thinks anything is possible.
“She has made the commitment, postponing residency to do this,” he said, and she has stated, “I’m going to do well.”
“It’s working,” said Gregg. “I’m much more of an accessory than a needed feature.”
But with a doctor-like consideration of statistics and variables, Gevvie is focused on the races ahead and qualifying for Rio.
“We’re taking it one day at a time, each piece and each stroke,” she said, “with the focus on the world championships and getting a top-nine finish right now (and qualifying for Rio).”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.