Gevvie Stone had the chance to qualify for the Olympics last year in the women’s single sculls but came up agonizingly short.
With the top 9 at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia earning automatic spots for their countries at the upcoming London Games, former Princeton University rowing star Stone took 11th.
“Immediately after the worlds, I was really disappointed,” said Stone, 2007 Princeton alum who helped the Tiger women’s open crew win the Eastern Sprints and NCAA grand final in 2006 on the way to an undefeated season.
Stone, though, wasn’t about to let that setback derail her Olympic dreams.
“Every disappointment gives you the motivation to train harder; it makes you change your training,” said Stone, 27, a native of Newton, Mass.
“When I didn’t make the national team in 2010, I changed the way I was lifting weights.”
Stone, who is based in Boston and is on a leave of absence from Tufts University School of Medicine, does not work with any of the other U.S. rowers or coaches. Instead, she is trained by her father, Gregg Stone, a former national class rower who has coached at Harvard and Belmont Hill School.
In the wake of the worlds, Stone and her dad fine-tuned her weekly regimen.
“My dad and I looked at my training and added more workouts on the water,” said Stone, of her father, who just missed making the 1976 Olympics and made the 1980 U.S. team only to be denied a shot at the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott.
“My dad was at Bled and he was impressed with how much New Zealand worked. I went to four hard workouts a week on the water from two or three. I was also doing two rows everyday. Before, I was mostly once a day with cross training.”
Stone’s training is spiced up by a contingent of male masters rowers who often join her in sessions on the Charles River.
“It is definitely helpful; it helps you to be more competitive, knowing someone is next to you pushing hard,” said Stone, noting that the group ranges from two to eight. “You want to win; it is fun.”
Bouncing back from the disappointment of Bled, Stone had plenty of fun at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland in May, taking third to book her spot to London.
Stone, who plans to resume her medical studies in late August, knew she had to make the most out of her time this year.
“I look at this as my first and best chance to qualify,” said Stone. “Taking that time off from school and training gave me a real chance to qualify.”
In order to get another crack at the Olympic qualification, Stone had to go through U.S. trials to get the spot in the Lucerne event.
Once at the Lucerne regatta, Stone was confident that she could achieve the top-four finish needed to clinch a spot in the Olympics.
“My training had gone well, I knew I was in a good place,” said Stone. “In finishing 11th at the worlds I had beaten some of the girls who were going to be there.”
After making it through her heat, Stone came up big in the final, going from fifth after the first 500 meters to move past Estonia and Ireland to take third and book her trip to London.
“In the final, the Estonian got off the line well but I was very close to her,” recalled Stone.
“I was closer to her than I usually am so for me it was a great start. There was a light headwind which is my favorite. It makes for a longer race which is good for me. I had a solid middle 1,000 and held my spot.”
After earning her spot, Stone felt fatigue and relief. “My first emotion was that I was tired, I was exhausted,” said Stone. “But winning, or in this case, qualifying was the magic pain reliever.”
It did take a while for the reality of making the Olympics to soak in for Stone.
“It is still a little surreal,” said Stone. “I was watching gymnastics on NBC and they had Shawn Johnson on talking about walking into the Opening Ceremony with USA on your back and getting chills. I realized that is going to be me.”
Stone realizes that riding the emotions of the moment doesn’t ensure Olympics success.
“So much of how you do in London depends on what you have done the last four years,” said Stone, whose mother, Lisa, rowed for the U.S. at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and took seventh in the women’s coxed quadruple sculls.
“Mentally, a key is to stay healthy. I got strep throat last year. I will have a week to train on the course. My event is the longest in the rowing program; it starts on July 28 and ends August 4.”
In assessing her prospects, Stone knows that she faces some long odds.
“My friends at med school say ‘oh you are going to the Olympics, bring back the gold,’” said Stone, who is now on track to graduate from Tufts in 2014 and may end up practicing sports medicine.
“It would be fantastic if I were able to do that. Making the ‘A’ final would be pretty spectacular; that is better than I have done in the past. It is going to be very hard. I need to work on my start and be in the groove.”
No matter where Stone finishes in the competition, she is prepared to soak up the atmosphere around the Eton Dorney course, some 25 miles west of London.
“It is really exciting; England is a country that loves rowing and understands the sport,” added Stone.
“The Boat Race (the annual rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club held on the Thames River in London) and Henley regatta are big parts of its sports calendar. I feel really lucky to be rowing there.”