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If love could be measured by the number of strokes it takes to row from the United States to England, then the Stone family of Newton, Mass., just might be closer than most families. Together they have dominated a tough endurance sport that also demands grace and balance, a delicate combination of skill and strength. And they do it better than most everyone else in the world. They are a family of elite rowers.
Genevra "Gevvie" Stone, 25, is the top-ranked female single sculler in the country, poised to represent the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympics. Stone's family provides extraordinary support, and not just with finances or morale. It goes much further: Stone's father is her coach.
Gregg Stone was one of those unlucky athletes who hit his prime right at the height of the Cold War. He saw his Olympic dreams crunched between youth in 1976, when he narrowly missed qualifying for the team, and politics in 1980, when, despite being the top U.S. men's single sculler, he missed the Moscow Games because of the U.S. boycott. Gevvie Stone's mother, Lisa Stone (nee Hansen), got to the 1976 Montreal Games and finished seventh in the women's coxed quadruple sculls. She took bronze in the 1977 and 1978 world championship double with Liz Hills O'Leary.
Lisa and Gregg also won their respective single scull divisions in the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston in 1977 -- a few months after they first met at the World Championship Regatta in Amsterdam. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their daughter would also win the Head of the Charles, which she did for the first time in October 2008.
But it wasn't an easy path; like her dad, Stone had an Olympic near miss of her own in 2008 that introduced her to frustration, but also deepened her appreciation for her sport and her family.
Going into 2008, Stone knew her chances of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic rowing team were slim because of her inexperience. "I was still learning how to train while the team selection was happening," she said. "I learned a lot, but was not competitive enough mentally. I was coming from college [crew] where I was a leader on the team and suddenly, I have to go back to a place where I was not on top."
After missing the boat in 2008, Stone regrouped and moved on to medical school at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. That reinsertion into "real life" helped her put things in perspective. It also laid the groundwork for the training she enjoys with her father.
Gregg Stone still rowed for fun and fitness most mornings from the nearby Harvard Boat Club, and he invited his daughter to join him on the water. It was there that Gevvie realized she still loved rowing and decided to enter the 2008 Head of the Charles Regatta, the world's largest rowing event. It attracts more than 8,000 athletes to the Charles River in Boston to compete in 55 events over a single October weekend. Stone surprised herself by winning the women's single scull: "That was the first time where I was like, 'Hey! I still have it! I've got my mojo back!'"
With her confidence restored, Stone's training for London 2012 grew organically and her father soon transitioned into the coach's role, a position he clearly relishes. "It's been fun for me," he said. "I'm not a professional coach, so this has allowed me to bone up on coaching theory. After a number of years out of the sport, it's nice to come back in at a high level like this. It's been a very special experience."
Though he's her primary coach, Gregg's involvement in his daughter's quest is a side gig that sometimes takes a backseat to his full-time financial services job, but he's loving every second of his busy life. "What could be more fun than being involved with one's daughter when she's [grown]? I loved coaching hockey and lacrosse teams when the kids were young, but being able to coach the sport I know best is a real privilege," he said.
Stone is thriving under her father's tutelage, but there's work yet to be done. "Gevvie is very disciplined and is performing at a very high level," her father said proudly. The coach in him then followed up, "But there's room for improvement. She placed eighth at a recent World Cup event [in Munich] and she won the U.S. trials this year by just three seconds, which is a narrow margin."
To widen that margin, Stone trains upward of five hours a day. In addition to on-the-water practice, she also cross-trains by running, lifting weights and working out on an ergometer. "This is my full-time job," she said. "If you make the world championship team, you get some support money, but I didn't make it last year. So my parents and grandparents are supporting me. It helps a lot that they've been through it [themselves]."
Her family is extremely supportive, if sometimes too supportive -- Stone related a pep talk her father gave just before a major race recently. "He said, 'No matter what happens, and even if you lose, I'll still love you.' So I said, 'Dad, I think I need something a little more fiery than that before the next race!'"
All joking aside, Stone recognizes the extraordinary opportunity she and her father have to work side by side. "I was talking to a friend from med school and out of the blue, she said, 'Gevvie, you know, we're at this age when we're relatively grown up and aren't Daddy's little girls any more. My dad and I don't really spend any time together and we don't really have much to talk about. You're so lucky to not only share a passion with your dad but to also be able to spend time doing it together.' That definitely made me realize how lucky I am that I have that special relationship with my dad," Stone said.