You Can Call Her Gabby.
Gabrielle Reece is a quintessential balance of Caribbean chill and tenacity. The incredibly gifted and accomplished superstar athlete and model has moved her field of endeavor from the volleyball courts and runways to prime time television and online with the same incredible results…..all while betraying her age with a body that would make a 25 year old love to hate her.
“Who is the female athlete? She is everything once thought to be an inherent contradiction. She is strong and beautiful, sweaty and feminine, tough and ladylike.”
Appearing on the covers of Elle, Life, Shape and even Playboy magazine, she became that woman you wished you could hate—but ultimately couldn’t because she’s so undeniably fierce.
With the ripe California rays beaming down, sending shockwaves of Vitamin D pumping throughout her body, the pungent mix of sea salt, sweat and sand soaked into her skin. Adrenaline kicking in, its go time! An Olympian challenger never falters. A vicious serve, a couple of knee-buckling kills and finally a few deep winded ‘good game’s later, it was official…Gabrielle Reece, a leader of one of the best beach volleyball teams ever assembled completed the 1999-2000 Olympic challenge series. Quickly dusting off her custom made Nike beach wear and tucking a few golden flyaway hairs in place, for the statuesque 6’3 pro, it was just another day at the office.
At a glance one can’t help but think – beach bombshell. Cascading blonde hair and bright eyes- Gabrielle Reece, often dubbed one of the world’s sexiest athletes, has a wholesome beach-girl type sensuality that cannot be denied. Her outer magnetism comes complete with an athletic build and piercing stare, strictly to illustrate that she means business and is not simply in it for designer bikini and glittering endorsement deals.
When the media first caught wind of Reece, in the late nineties fresh off being inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame for setting two volleyball records for Florida State University, she garnered accolades from the worlds of athletics and beauty. Gracing ‘The Most Beautiful’ lists of print and television outlets like Elle Magazine, People, E! and Sports Illustrated, while still in college, she became the new mold for the female athlete. After Women’s Sports & Fitness named Gabby one of the ‘20 Most Influential Women in Sports’ in August 1997, the magazine’s editor wrote, “I believe she represents, finally, the answer to all the image-questing pendulum swinging of the decades gone by. Who is the female athlete? She is everything once thought to be an inherent contradiction. She is strong and beautiful, sweaty and feminine, tough and ladylike.”
An answer to all the image-questing pendulum swinging of the decades gone by? That’s a hefty compliment for a then 27-year old, who now at 41 smiles coyly when reflecting upon topping beauty lists, simply saying that she believes in beauty radiating from the inside out. When told that she had been named to OCEAN Style’s 51 Most Beautiful she replied, “I always love those lists, don’t you? Its like who did I know to get on that list, or who did I hurt to get off that list?”
While some celebrities secretly ogle at their own headlines or are publicly swallowed by their own hype, it’s abundantly clear upon her near punctual arrival at The Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, that Gabby is not that girl. Warned ahead of time that the mother of three and entrepreneur only had a few hours to shoot between back-to-back meetings (about everything from exercise equipment to television pitches), the gracious glamazon apologized profusely for arriving 10 minutes late and promised to stay until the final money shot had been captured. Clad in dark denim, a simple two- toned tee and flip-flops, her laid back style also transferred to her overall chill mode. Politely refusing the typical pampering of green tea, soothing elevator music, and a delicate breakfast to ‘ease her in,’ it looked as if Gabby was quietly thinking ‘…where’s the reggae?’ while declaring that the unexpected rain wasn’t going to damper the shoot. Calming the fears of the photographer and production staff who were frantically mapping out alternate locations in their rain contingency plan, Reece relaxed in the hair/makeup chair and like clock-work slipped into girl talk with makeup artist Naomi Priestly (who happens to be the wife of 90210 alum, actor Jason Priestley). They swapped tales of raising kids under the watchful eye of Hollywood, expanding their families and their famous husbands…(Reece has been married to Hawaiian big-wave surfer-Laird Hamilton for 14 years). The downpour in the background was quickly forgotten.
“No big deal, I’ve been at it for a lot of years, and it’s all about perspective. We’re taking photos, so you know we’ve got to have fun with it and make the work environment pleasant” she said. Gabrielle Allyse Reece credits her laid back nature to her Caribbean upbringing that has stamped an indelible imprint on her own parenting. Born in La Jolla, California, her family (mom from Long Island, New York and dad from Trinidad) moved to St. Thomas when she was young. “Its like anything, its what you know. I grew up with my stepfather and he’s from Puerto Rico, but my biological father who passed away when I was five, was from Trinidad. So my family’s Caribbean.”
She carries the legacy of her father close. Their interaction was cut short after he was tragically killed in a plane crash. After wearing his sterling silver cross necklace, Gabrielle desired something more permanent and had a stylized replica of the cross tattooed on the inside of her right ankle.
“Growing up in St. Thomas, it was the most action packed island at the time, besides Puerto Rico. So we went to Virgin Gorda in the BVI to get away, which is kind of funny (to get away from paradise). I loved the fact that when I was a small child, my cousins and I had boats to get around. We’d go to Bath & Turtle, its exquisite there. Growing up on an island its kind of like growing up in a small town. It’s all about accountability and you can’t really get away with anything. You have an opportunity to trust your instincts and get a good beat on people.”
It was that small island charm and instinctual nature that took her to levels of achievement that she says that she had never fathomed for herself. She dabbled in volleyball while in St. Thomas, but got serious after moving to St. Petersburg, Florida with her mother in the 11th grade, alter securing a scholarship to Florida State University.
Once credited as saying, “I enjoy getting the ball to go exactly where I want it, at the speed I want it to go,” was perhaps a predictor of Reece’s swift rise to fame. After a record setting college volleyball career, she toured as a pro and the wins and accolades quickly followed including, First Place at the inaugural Beach Volleyball World Championships, kills leader for four consecutive years with the Women’s Beach Volleyball League, Offensive Player of the Year, and League Co-Champion during her fourth year captaining Team Nike.
Team Nike recognized ‘Team Gabby’ as a viable brand, signing her on as the first female athlete in the mid nineties to design a shoe and the first female ever to be a cross training spokesperson. She launched a series of 4 different collections, alongside Air Jordan designer Tinker Hatfield. Not only did Reece’s Air Patrol outsell Air Jordan’s – it was the first women’s shoe to outsell men’s.
While most were lining up for work-study jobs during college, her second campus was New York City where she carved out a second career as a fashion model. Designers and fashion editors welcomed her athletic and healthy looking build, a stark contrast from the Twiggy-esque creatures that populated both high fashion and fitness magazines. Appearing on the covers of Elle, Life, Shape and even Playboy magazine, she became that woman you wished you could hate—but ultimately couldn’t because she’s so undeniably fierce.
“You learn very early that image is everything. You could be super talented but if you don’t learn how to communicate on the image side, it can be kind of tricky. So I felt like I retired from modeling a long time ago, but the reality is that it’s just a way to communicate your image. But it is kind of funny sometimes, like ohhhgooddd, I’m still taking pictures in a bikini?? But you just have to say thank you.”
As the rain tapered off to a drizzle, the OCEAN Style cover shoot ensued on the rooftop of the Montage Hotel. Complete with Spanish styled architecture the exclusive retreat is opened by gripping iron entry gates that lead to a pool area overlooking Los Angeles. Offering solace to notable guests, like Oprah Winfrey, the private cabanas are the scene of the first shot.
Peruvian photographer, Bell Soto’s original plans were to simulate a Caribbean feel in LA, “but obviously due to the rain, its very dark and cloudy, so I’m going to go with an airy feel, where all of the light is coming through the windows and it’s a heavenly feeling rather than Caribbean afternoon.” The seasoned model carefully makes her way to the cabana, dodging puddles in a white bathrobe. While the crew shivers, Soto pops his collar and focuses his lens on Gabrielle Reece. She bravely disrobes, revealing an itsy bitsy bikini and a megawatt smile that outshines the bold colors in her suit. As the looks change and the camera keeps clicking, she moves as directed with a fluid understanding of her best angles and stances. With a string of acting roles and guest appearances (Good Morning America, The Today Show, Chelsea Lately, Extreme Makeover and America’s Next Top Model) under her belt she knows how to be natural while still playing to the camera.
“She’s pretty confident. She works out and her body is amazing so she doesn’t have to be so self-conscious of what she’s wearing because she takes such good care of herself,” says stylist Sarah Elle, who has worked with Gabby for 14 years after initially meeting her at the Goodwill Games.
Her goal is not necessarily to stay camera ready, as it is to share her healthy lifestyle. Competing in the sand while 5 months pregnant with her second child, Brody, she gave new meaning to staying fit while pregnant. She decided to do a real time pregnancy DVD that walks women through exercises appropriate for each trimester of their pregnancy. She taped the segments as she herself progressed in her pregnancy. Filling a void in the fitness marketplace, once again, Gabrielle Reece struck gold.
“I’ve had access to all of these people, trainers, kind of the best in the business and I’m going to baby food it and push it out there for people. For me health is the #1 thing.”
Now producing her own health and fitness related projects, which include workout DVDs, a web series with Vaseline, health segments featured on Rachel Ray and Fit TV and her own website (gabbyreece360.com) where she pumps out free fitness and nutrition tutorials, Gabby’s days are packed to the gills. Once photographer Bell Soto yells ‘it’s a wrap,’ she emerges from the pool, re-energized for the rest of the day, which includes a number of meetings, playing an active role in her three daughter’s lives and being a wife.
“Working out is good for my mental sanity, and when I train there’s mostly peace at my house. I’m married to somebody who is from Hawaii, from an island, so we always joke that there’s a short hand between us because we grew up so similar.”
Splitting their time between Malibu and the island of Hawaii feels right for this Trinidadian who says that her secret to happiness is simple“…being in nature, by the ocean and gathering with people, now that’s what makes me happy.”
by Chie Davis
(This article appeared in a previous issue of OCEAN Style Magazine.)