Lisa Stone stood in the processing line in Plattsburgh, N.Y., some 20 miles from the Canadian border, and peeked into a shopping cart, stuffed with gear for the upcoming 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.
Four years removed from Title IX, the landmark law that prohibited discrimination based on gender in federal-funded activities, Stone and her rowing teammates, traveling across the border to represent the United States, were presented with girdles.
“It was a little bizarre, but we just thought it was amusing,” Lisa Stone said. “It was a throwback. Some of the male organizers were just stuck in the ’50s.
“We were all amused by it. I wish I kept it. It would be just a great icon of changing times. I think we threw it away, jettisoned it pretty quickly. No organized burning, no. We should have. We were racing, you’re not thinking about the political piece.”
But to be an American female athlete in that era, especially on such a global scale as the Olympics, was to be part of a political statement. There were the proactive spokeswomen who railed against a male-centric athletic hierarchy, like Yale’s Chris Ersnt, who with teammates in 1976 protested the school’s lack of female locker rooms by storming the athletic director’s office, and undressing to reveal “Title IX” in blue marker on their bodies.
And there were others like Stone, now the varsity crew coach at Boston’s Winsor School, who by simply competing helped light the way.
On the 40th anniversary of Title IX, Lisa’s daughter Gevvie will compete in the Olympics Saturday as a single sculler at the Eton Dorney Rowing Centre on Dorney Lake just west of London, completing a generational journey for Newton’s premier rowing family, bearing the fruits of her predecessors, and providing a glimpse into just how far we’ve come.
Lisa Stone matriculated at Cal-Berkeley in 1972. There was no competitive pyramid at that time within the sport. All women had been rowing for one or two years. Her senior year in high school, Lisa and the crew team went to a regatta in Corvallis, Ore., where they beat the University of Washington.
But Berkeley still didn’t have a crew team. When athletics officials asked her to organize one, Lisa instead moved to Southern California, to row for a club. She was never much of an organizer. There, she trained with the Long Beach football team. Her weight training partner was a Samoan shot-putter.
“I personally didn’t go through the hardship that some compatriots were experiencing on the East Coast,” Lisa Stone said. “In Southern California, it was the very beginning of people being enthralled with the idea of women looking strong. It wasn’t quite as harsh as something on the East Coast. It wasn’t the same as it may have been there, where it was more of a men hierarchy of not having money to share.”
Lisa wound up placing seventh in Montreal, out of the finals. The two following years at the world championships, she raced a double and finished third. She coached the Harvard lightweights from 1980-86. As a rower, she doesn’t remember having to overcome gender-based adversity, but knows there were those who suffered through more difficult times.
“Everybody’s pretty much concentrating on how you’re going to get from point A to point B as fast as possible in the moment,” Lisa Stone said. “You’re not thinking about what you had to sacrifice, it has to come before and after. At least, for me, you don’t think about that. You think about how fast I can do, what are my chances.
“I think that everybody understands that there were women who really pushed and worked the whole thing, and made it easier for everybody else. Inequity in US rowing has not been great. But it doesn’t exist anymore, because the women have done so well.”
Gevvie Stone is part of that. Instead of rowing her freshman year in high school, she played soccer and lacrosse. Her parents’ policy was always hands-off. Let her find rowing herself, they figured. They probably knew she’d discover the path. Gevvie’s first word was boat.
She made the switch in high school, wound up rowing at Princeton, qualified for London on May 23 at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Switzerland, and won plenty of Head of the Charles races in between, with her parents watching the whole way. Her father, Gregg Stone, was an Olympic-caliber single sculler who never got his shot because of the United States’s boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
“I think I noticed how much it mattered to my parents when I won U-23s the first time in 2006,” said Gevvie Stone, a medical student at Tufts University who has been on leave since 2010 to train for London. “My mom was crying, I think. They were both just really excited for me. It would have been an amazing experience in its own right, no matter what. Sharing it with both of them has made it more special. For them to have a child who cares about rowing as much as they do, it’s exciting for them.”
Gregg now coaches Gevvie exclusively, though she is not far removed from both parents doubling as her instructors.
“Just too much advice coming from different directions,” Gevvie Stone said. “I’m hard enough on myself that I didn’t need to hear it from others, in a way. Since then, my mom has been supportive. Always loves to hear what’s going on, how the gossip is on the team, stays interested through coaching. I can call her, and she doesn’t critique. Just listens like a mom.”
Sitting atop the Weld Boathouse overlooking the Charles River on a June morning, the sound of oars slapping the rippling current below, Gevvie reflected on the two aspects of racing that rowers are always happy to do: practice starts and get gear.
Then weeks away from her first London race, the anticipation building, Gevvie received a PDF with images of Olympic swag the other day. It had 24 hats, by her count.
Plenty of caps, but no girdles.