As I slowly opened my eyes to the gray skies of a Deerfield Wednesday, I dozed for a moment in the calm drowsiness of my room before leaping suddenly off the top bunk of my bed as quickly as a child on Christmas morning. Before I scampered to class with an unusual amount of energy for 8:15 am, I pinched myself a good three or four times just make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This was indeed the day I was going to meet Susan Francia, crew goddess and 2008 Beijing gold-medalist in the women’s eight.
After trudging through my morning classes I stood impatiently at noon in the dining hall lunch line and let my eyes wander through the crowd of faculty and students. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the face that I had seen in so many magazines. At a statuesque 6’2 , she towered a good three inches over the swarming group of curious members of the Deerfield community, while signing autographs and shaking hands.
“There she is…” a friend of mine whispered, “Go say ‘hi’ to her!” All my bravery mysteriously vanished, but after a lot of prodding and persuading, I finally mustered up the courage to go introduce myself. She smiled at me and laughed because I was shouting and mumbling at the same time. Finally I just thrust my hand out in a final attempt to come across as a professional member of the Scroll staff. She stuck hers out in return and, for a millisecond, I stood in awe, this was the hand that had rowed hundreds of thousands of strokes, a few hundred of which had won the US and US Olympic rowing teams numerous medals over the past four years.
After her presentation at the boathouse in the afternoon for the boy’s and girl’s crew teams, (which summarized how incredibly rewarding, difficult, and yet deceivingly easy-looking being the best rower in the world is) the Scroll was permitted a few moments to ask Ms. Francia about her experiences and advice for DA’s promising young athletes.
Scroll: When you first started rowing, where did you think you would end up?
Susan Francia: When I first started rowing, one of the ways the coaches ‘bribed’ me to get to row was by saying I could go to the Olympics. It was such a crazy idea, I didn’t believe it could happen- but I definitely kept it in the back of my mind. It helped that the coaches said I had a lot of potential, but the obvious next step was working hard to get there.
Scroll: What would you say to kids who are interested but hesitant in trying rowing as a sport?
Susan Francia: I’d say rowing is a great sport [to do] in order to learn about yourself. I think it’s one of the few sports where you’re constantly being challenged, especially in a race. Much of it is physical, but most of it is really mental and so I think that challenge of “You know, how tough am I?” is really important.
Scroll: When did you realize that this was something you wanted to pursue outside of school, at what point did it become more than just something to keep you focused during college?
Susan Francia: I think it was mostly just throughout college. It was always kind of a slow and steady process and I was always checking up on how the US team was doing and I thought that was so cool, and even then to think “Oh, really this is realistic, that I could do that?”
Scroll: Now what was your favorite Olympic memory?
Susan Francia: Standing on the podium and singing the national anthem, because you’re just there representing your country and it’s just …the coolest thing.
Scroll: Of course at Deerfield there are hundreds of students who are extremely good athletes, and I would imagine a few of them have Olympic dreams, what would you say to them, even if they’re good now, how do they push themselves to be truly exemplary?
Susan Francia: I think part of it is persistence and even when it’s tough, and even when you think “Eh, I’ve had it” it’s like “No, I’ve had this dream and I’m going to go through with it, and do whatever it takes.” It’s obviously not always going to be fun, but in the end it’s so worth it to be standing on the podium with a gold medal. And believe me- there have been times I thought “You know what forget this” but you really just have to see beyond it and stick with it.