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STACK has the privilege of teaming up with elite athletes all across the globe. We get the lowdown on the latest trends in training, nutrition and style, and we deliver this exclusive content directly to you. Today, we learn how rower Susan Francia went from “Most Spirited” in high school to Olympic gold medalist. Be sure to check out Part 2 of the interview as well.
Standing 6'2" tall in high school, Francia had her pick of the litter when it came to playing sports. She was a basketball coach’s dream, an opposing volleyball player's nightmare. So it’s only logical that Francia eventually discovered her athletic passion as part of an 58-foot boat crew, right?
STACK recently caught up with the 2008 Olympic gold medalist before she defends her World Rowing Championship in the women’s pair division, starting this weekend through Nov. 7.
STACK: Rowing is a popular high school sport, but it wasn’t so common a few years back. What sports did you play as a prep athlete?
Susan Francia: I actually did field hockey, which is kind of amusing for a six-foot-two girl. I wasn’t very good, but I had fun.
STACK: Was it difficult to live up to expectations of being an extraordinarily gifted athlete?
SF: For me, it was fun and it was exercise and I was part of the team. Not being the top athlete, it was great to have people to encourage me and bring me up. And I was also very supportive of my teammates.
[When I speak at high schools,] I always take this trophy with me. It was the only athletic award I received in my senior year of high school. It was for “Most Spirited.”
STACK: How did you get started in rowing?
SF: My freshman year at the [University of Pennsylvania], I decided to stick with academics and try to do very well academically. Unfortunately, without sports, I had no time management skills. My grades really suffered and I was doing varsity socializing instead.
My sophomore year...I was considering track and field and doing the heptathlon. I went to the first meeting, and they said we were going to run six miles to go cheer on the cross country team. I said "no, thank you." That was the end of my track career.
The other option to walk on to a team was rowing. I went to the very first meeting, and the girls just stared at me, saying "you’re going to be awesome!" Now who doesn’t want to hear that?
STACK: Why all the excitement upon your arrival?
SF: They thought I had potential. [laughs] That word “potential”—I’d been hearing it all throughout high school...so it was awesome to find something where I could finally live up to my potential.
STACK: What surprised you most about the sport?
SF: One of the things I learned in rowing that I wished I had learned earlier was really pushing myself. I thought I was going hard and being tough [back in high school], but looking back on it I laugh, because I really wasn’t.
Be sure to check back for Part 2 of our interview.
Photo: Courtesy of Boathouse Sports