Athlete of the Month – March 2016
Medical doctor Genevra Stone from the United States impressed the world of rowing in 2015 when she medalled twice in the women’s single sculls during the World Rowing Cup series and finished fourth at the World Rowing Championships.
A two-time under-23 World Champion, Stone has already competed at one Olympic Games in the single and is hoping to be selected by US Rowing to compete at her second Games in Rio, now as one of the top single scullers in the world.
World Rowing: Why the single scull?
Genevra Stone: It happened somewhat accidentally. When I returned to Boston for medical school, I didn’t have any other elite women with whom to train. Since I was the only one, the single was the only option. With time, I have learned to love the single, and now it’s my boat class of choice.
WR: What led you to study medicine?
GS: I dislocated my kneecap repeatedly as a pre-teen, which led to my seeing an orthopaedic surgeon for advice. At age 12, upon leaving his office, I turned to my mom and told her that I wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon when I grew up and I’ve had that dream ever since then.
WR: How did you balance studying and rowing during med school?
GS: I have been a student-athlete since I can remember. As I got older (high school then college then medical school), both academics and athletics increased in intensity. However, the basic elements in the balance between the two remained the same: time efficiency, prioritization of important activities, stress management, and (last but not least) love of what I do.
I think that being consistently pressed for time led to better use of time and more appreciation for what time I had and what I chose to do with it. I eliminated much of my mindless internet time, my aimlessly hanging around at the boathouse time and (being totally honest) much of my social time. Furthermore I was able to channel any possible academic frustration into my rowing and vice versa. Lastly I love medicine and I love rowing.
As an added bonus, I think that working out allowed me to retain my focus studying longer and forced me to get an acceptable amount of sleep.
WR: Both of your parents were on the US national rowing team in the 1970s. How has their history in the sport been an inspiration to you?
GS: I am incredibly lucky to share a love of rowing with my parents. They introduced me to the sport at a young age (as a spectator) and I love that they understand what I do and why I do it. When I dreamt about being an Olympian, one of the reasons it didn’t seem crazily far-fetched to me was that I know many Olympians (including my mom). My parents understand being passionate about a dream, and they have supported me in my rowing.
WR: Your father Gregg is your coach. How did this partnership come about?
GS: When I returned to Boston for medical school, I wasn’t sure that I would continue racing at the elite level, but I was sure I wanted to keep rowing in my life. I would do many of my hard workouts on the weekends and my dad would join me for company. We were each other’s training partners as we prepared for and raced in a bunch of low-key fall head races. Gradually, the little bits of advice handed to me across the water became formal technical coaching and the conversations about which workout to do that day became a formal training plan.
My dad has done a great job adapting to his role of coach and separating his parenting from his coaching. He understands me, so he knows when to be tough and when to give me room. He trusts me, allowing me to have a say when it’s appropriate. And I get away with talking back more than I should.
WR: What would you say are your main strengths and weaknesses?
GS: I am more of an endurance athlete than a power athlete. My 6k erg time is much more competitive than my 2k time!
As for character, I think that my persistence and my competitive drive have gotten me far in life and have helped in rowing and medicine. I can do a long steady state row, focusing on one technical change and stubbornly trying to improve it. I won’t give in when I’m behind at the 500m mark and I will fight the whole way down the course. I am competitive and I hold myself to a high standard. But these same two traits could be viewed as weaknesses because they have gotten me in trouble as well. Sometimes it is not helpful to be persistent and to keep banging your head against the wall when you could try an alternative. My competitive nature has led me to be competitive with others occasionally when it’s not appropriate and with myself to an extreme that it causes self-doubt and self-deprecation.
WR: In your opinion, what are the essential qualities that lead to an athlete’s success?
GS: I think persistence and passion are two of the most important things in being a successful rower. Persistence because there is so much training relative to racing. Passion because you have to care about the sport enough to be willing to put yourself on the line to the point of complete exhaustion and serious pain.
WR: You won the women’s championship single at the Head of the Charles Regatta six times. What makes this regatta such a perfect match for you?
GS: I am lucky to have Head of the Charles in my backyard and there is a serious home course advantage. Both knowing how to navigate the turns and bridges and the loud friends and other Bostonians who come to cheer on the locals contribute to that home course advantage. Also my body prefers the endurance side of rowing’s power-endurance balance of the three mile race.
WR: You are a two-time under-23 World Champion, in the eight in 2006 and in the quad in 2007. What did you learn at that level that you still benefit from today?
GS: I think the U23 World Championships is a great stepping stone between the US collegiate system and the senior team. The U23 Worlds involves much of what could make a first senior team experience stressful and intimidating - all the travel, some of the media, some of the pressure, the higher level of competition, etc. There’s a surreal moment your first time on the starting blocks when the announcer starts naming countries and you know you’ve made it to a higher level of play. Having that behind me as an under-23 rower enabled me to focus more on the rowing itself when I got to my first senior competition.
WR: You took a break from rowing from 2008 to 2010. What brought you back?
GS: I didn’t try to take a break in 2008. I tried out for the United States women’s quadruple sculls and I didn’t make the Beijing team. I started medical school in 2008 and I continued to row when I had the time. A few months into school, I knew that I wanted to compete again at the elite level. However, the second year of medical school started before the 2009 World Rowing Championships, so I competed at Women’s Henley, Holland Beker, and Royal Henley instead of trying to make the United States senior squad.
WR: Your boat speed increased markedly between 2014 and 2015. What factors played a role in upping your performance?
GS: I think there were a variety of factors which helped me gain speed between 2014 and 2015. First, more experience is better and I used the disappointing 2014 season to learn how to better approach big regattas (mentally and training-wise). Second, I finished school in May 2014 so by August I only had a few months of full-time training behind me. In 2015, I had been training full-time for over a year. Third, I switched boats from the Van Dusen into the Empacher. The Empacher provided an advantage, especially in rough water and unstable conditions.
WR: Two World Cup medals in 2015: one silver behind World Champion and Olympic medallist Kim Crow, one bronze behind Kim Crow and 2012 Olympic Champion Mirka Knapkova. What did it feel like to stand on the podium alongside these athletes for the first time in your sporting career?
GS: I was in shock! Especially the first time at World Rowing Cup II. I admire Kimmy and Mirka and it wasn’t until being on the podium with them that I felt in the same league as those two incredible athletes. It also was great motivation to keep pushing to go faster because it feels so amazing being on the podium that I want to get back there. Also, being on the podium was a sweet reward after a year of hard work and helped justify the decision for me to postpone my medical residency.
WR: In 2012, you qualified for the Olympic Games through the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta. For Rio, you qualified directly at the 2015 World Rowing Championships thanks to a fourth-place finish. How has this affected your level of confidence compared to four years ago?
GS: I actually haven’t qualified yet for Rio. The US will send a women’s single sculler to Rio, and the trials to determine who that rower will be are April 21-24. I have to win trials in order to be the United States women’s single sculls in Rio.
If I qualify for Rio, I believe I will enter the regatta more confident that I deserve to be there with the fastest women in the world and that I can fight for a spot on the podium. At 2014 World Rowing Cup II, I remember looking across during the A-final and seeing that I was even with Mirka Knapkova. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t believe that I could beat her to the line. That race reinforced an important lesson about confidence: I have to believe in my own ability to succeed.
WR: How is having already competed at one Olympic Games is helping in your mental preparation for Rio?
GS: If I win the right to be the US W1x in Rio, I think my focus will be very different. In London, it was about the experience and having my best race. Because of my 4th place finish at Worlds last summer, the podium is much more of a realistic goal than it ever was in London. So I think my focus will be much more performance rather than experience oriented.
WR: After Rio, how will you define if it was a successful regatta for you personally?
GS: When I talk with junior rowers, I tell them that the only possible regret I could possibly have at the end of a race is not giving it my best effort. The same applies for Rio.
WR: Where do you train year-round?
GS: I train most of the year on the Charles River in Boston. When it’s too cold (aka frozen), I venture to warmer climates.
WR: If you could have dinner with any three people in the world, whom would you invite?
GS: This is a hard question! After much thought I have selected the following people:
- Dr Atul Gawande (surgeon, medical ethicist, author): Having just finished his book “Being Mortal”, I would love to sit down with Dr. Gawande to discuss medicine in today’s world.
- Michelle Kwan (US figure skating legend): When I was much younger, I dreamed of being an Olympian…in figure skating. That dream was far from ever becoming reality, but because of it, Kwan was one of my childhood idols. She performed with grace not only on the ice but off of it where she demonstrated true sportsmanship and team attitude when beaten by other Americans in her two Olympic Games.
- Tom Brady (American football player) I had a giant crush on Tom Brady in high school and I am still a huge fan of his. Tom has been very successful in sport and in maintaining his edge as he ages.
WR: How do you see life after Rio?
GS: I’ve taken the past two years to focus primarily on rowing while medicine sits in the backseat. After Rio it is time for me to put medicine first. I will apply to orthopaedic surgery residency programmes, hoping to begin my five-year residency in 2017. My rowing will be in the backseat for the foreseeable future after 2016.