Captain of a Different Age
Smith ’05 rarely relaxes. She works out almost every
day, strengthening her legs, abs and shoulders to add speed
and power to her rowing technique. She spends 25 hours a week
in training and racing. She can run 18 miles at a stretch
and still have gas in the tank. She usually catches only four
or five hours of sleep a night.
At age 35, Smith is in the best shape of her life.
She has to be. As a tri-captain of Smith’s medal-winning
crew team, she anchors a varsity boat from the bow and must
set a good example for eight other rowers, each in sync with
every oar stroke.
As captain, Smith also takes
seriously her team responsibilities outside the crew shell.
With the other captains, Smith organizes crew team events
to keep more than 80 members unified, and does the little
things that keep the team together mentally and emotionally.
Last year, Smith took the award
for Most Inspirational team member. “I swear,
though, it’s just because I’m older,” she
By far the oldest rower on Smith’s crew team, Stephanie
Smith is nearly twice the age of many of her competitors.
The only Ada Comstock Scholar on the varsity crew teams, Smith
has yet to meet another rower at that level, at Smith or in
competition, beyond the traditional student age. “I’m
always thinking, they all must look at me and be thinking,
‘You don’t look like our age.’”
Though she maintains a youthful
appearance, Smith has seen more life than most entering Smith
students. After attending Shoreline Community College in Seattle,
her hometown, she worked her way up through the ranks with
Nordstrom, the clothing retailer, becoming a leading window
display designer with the company. Meanwhile, she played guitar
in a popular Seattle punk band (that’s saying something),
rehearsing and gigging several nights a week. Before joining
crew, she jokes, “I never knew 5 a.m. except from the
Smith crew competes in a two-part season, from September through
October, and again from March through May. With the season
split over the academic year, crew demands a lot of its leaders
and team members, says Smith. They must remain in good physical
condition over the summer to be ready for fall competition,
then retain their fitness over the winter for the more intense
spring competition, culminating with the National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
“In crew, there is no off-season,” as Smith puts
Having begun crew at age 32 when she entered Smith, Stephanie
Smith is an inspiration for late-blooming crew aspirants.
She and some Adas in her entering class thought joining the
team might be a good way to get involved in campus life. Smith
was the only Ada in her class to go through with it. She had
never before rowed in a shell. Three years later, crew has
become an important part of her life.
“I’ve gained so much through crew,” she
says. “It is absolutely essential to my experience at
Smith. Every year that I’ve been involved it’s
become more and more important to me.”
That first year, Smith says she was thrilled to find out “what
my body can do” as she trained herself into tip-top
shape participating on a novice team. Last year, her second
on the team, her focus broadened as she became a varsity team
leader. “Now I was, ‘Look what the team can do.’”
Last spring, Smith crew competed in the NCAA’s Division
III championship tournament in Sacramento, California, and
bucked expectations in winning a silver medal.
Unfortunately for Stephanie Smith, she missed that achievement
as she fulfilled a prior commitment to a New York film production
company for which she worked as an intern designing sets.
That sacrifice was one example of the logistical challenges
typically faced by Smith’s student-athletes. With an
academic schedule at least as rigorous and demanding as her
athletic schedule, Smith, a studio art major, must constantly
remain faithful to her daily regimen. She also belongs to
the fencing team, and frequently designs stage sets for theater
Her busy schedule has necessitated a disciplined way of life,
Smith says, in which every moment is put to use. “It’s
really forced me to become hyper-organized,” she says.
“I over-schedule everything now. But I function really
well in this type of environment.”
As for that all-important down time, Smith says her activities
on crew and in her courses provide enough mental break. “Every
morning when I’m on the water, that’s my spirit
time,” she says. “I can see the moon and the stars
and the fog on the water. Seeing the sunrise on the Connecticut
River every morning is irreplaceable.”
Stephanie Smith says she plans to continue rowing after she
graduates from Smith as she pursues a career in architectural
design of sustainable structures. For now, in her third and
final year at Smith and as a crew team member, she will continue
loading her ample energy into her many activities.
“My way of giving back here is to bring honor to the
school, and to do the best that I can do, and being a good
captain and helping the team do the best it can do. I see
the glory we’ve brought to the school. That’s
my little way of giving back.”