Gabrielle Reece Interview from Opening Ceremony Annual Issue No 01
Gabrielle Reece Stands Up For Herself
Reporters often say the most difficult interviews are with professional athletes and CEOs. Given the money involved, both are so programmed with talking points that it’s almost impossible to get a straight answer. Then there’s Gabrielle Reece, a professional athlete for 20 years with all the makings of a CEO, but not of the trappings of either. From the moment Reece sat down to talk at a Malibu cafe, she could not have been more open or candid about who she was or where she came from. “Honestly, she said, “I could have ended up working in a gift store.”
As improbably as that sounds, she spent most of her childhood moving around with her mother and step-father—from Puerto Rico to Saint Thomas and New York, before landing in Florida. Reece didn’t start playing sports until age 16, but excelled so quickly that she received a scholarship from Florida State University in 1988. Standing 6 feet 3 inches tall, she played middle blocker, setting several FSU records and attracting the attending of modeling scouts in the process.
Thinking little of it, she took a few modeling jobs, and was soon traveling from Florida to Europe to pose for photographers such as Steven Meisel and Richard Avedon. “It was a specific moment in time,” said Reece, attempting to put this fairytale into context. “When you had larger-sized models like Rachel Hunter and Rachel Williams. When that moment passed, I was too big again.” After graduating in 1992, uncertain what was next, Reece took her coach’s advice and moved to California to learn how to play volleyball isn’t eh sand. A new sport was taking off, and Reece was there, front and center in the Four-Woman Tour. The big girl in the middle was all grown up, bringing sex appeal to record kills, and not surprisingly, the numbers started flying.
Talk about hitting a moment. Driven by the cross-currents of pop culture, gender politics and global economics, in the early ‘90s, new frontiers opened in sports, providing unprecedented opportunities for a new breed of athletes, especially the generation of girls who grew up post-Title IX and pre-X Games. Then again, they still had to earn it the old-fashioned way—fighting for every step up the podium—which Gabrielle did, physically and figuratively.
Reece stormed the beach in a Nike bikini, and then took it off for Playboy. Naturally,g ups loved her, but more importantly, chicks loved her, too. On top of her game and in full possession of her femininity, she appealed to both sexes equally, putting the rad in radical. The best part was that Gabrielle Reece changed public perceptions of female athletes simply by being who she truly was at heart: a ferocious competition who also just happened to be a gorgeous girl.
“Because I was such an outsider, I never imagined fitting in. So when I got compliments like, ‘You’re so beautiful,’ or whatever, it only ever got this far,” she said, holding her palm a foot from her chest. The same went for criticism, although there was on incident in 1994, when a television reporter—a young woman who had been a collegiate athlete herself—ended a story by suggesting her looks were the real reason Reece became the first female athlete to design a shoe for Nike. That got to her al right. Having her achievements undermined by someone she considered a pet was enough for Reece to her her out on it, literally.
“I had to stand up for myself, she said. “I left her a voice message saying: ‘I just don’t understand, when we have the same goals and want the same things, why you would say that?’” The call was completely out of character fo rReece. “I’ve had to learn how to show my emotions,” she said. “Even with Laired. Actually, with him most of all.”
Reece met Laird Hamilton, the best big-wave surfer in teh world, in 1995, and they married in 1997. Though often presented as a picture-perfect union of genetically blessed specimens, the couple was near divorce in 2000. Which she managed to mention without oversharing, as well as the fact that they worked through it Lon ago and have since found genuine balance in their relationship. On that note, Reece said she considers Hamilton the best athlete she’s ever known; better than her at every sport except volleyball. Then she smiled, describing the man in one word: ”Intense,” quickly adding, “Never a dull moment.” And I wouldn't’ have it any other way. Because Laird challenges me and centers me more than any person in the world.”
Dividing their time between Malibu and Kauai, their priority is now raising their daughters, Brody and Reece, to become their own women and make their own choices—which may or may n to include sports. “Honestly, al lI care about is that whatever they do, they work at it, and work hard.” Teaching by example, Reece works out six days a week, and to put it plainly, she’s still cut. If the right opportunity came along—a 16-city U.S. tour, for example—she said she would be back on the circuit in a heartbeat. Whether or not that happens, she’s focusing on other priorities that she hopes will bring change to public health policies, both nationally and locally. In the meantime, she’s got to get home to the girls.
“Motherhood is chaos,” she said, laughing. “I used to try to control everything, but I’ve learned how defeating that is. So now what I tell myself is, I have power, I don’t have control.” On that note, having assumed the role of manager, Reece now oversees her own career as well as Hamilton’s, and is in the process of consolidating their businesses. What’s more, having co-authored two books, she just finished her third, in which she shared insights, observations and life lessons—about men, women, sex, relationships, family, children, pressures, struggles and the never-ending juggle to keep it all together. If that sounds touchy-feeling, think again, because Reece’s most winning quality is actually her willingness to call herself out. “One of the things I’ve had to learn the heard way is how to admit when I’m wrong,” she said. “It’s so liberating, saying, “I screwed up, and I’m sorry.’” Half-jokingly, she adds, “I mean, I think I’ve come a long way on that count, but Laird always says, ‘Why am I always the one who has to apologize?’ Of course my answer is, ‘Because you’re always the one to fuck up.”
Still talking two hours later in the parking lot, Reece mentioned she was driving her husband’s car because he took her Escalade. It takes a lot fo woman to stand up to a jet-black Humvee, but Reece is nothing if not a lot fo woman. If her role as athlete-model-actress-author=sports-commentator-spokeswoman-wife-partner-mother-manager doesn’t defy categorization, she’s certainly challenging the limits of hyphenation. So forget conventional wisdom, Becca use at 42, Gabrielle Reece has just hit her strike.