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Crew Captain of a Different Age

Stephanie 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 says.

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 other side.”

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 it.

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 department productions.

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.”

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