Do you ever wonder how celebrities or professional athletes seem to have it all? They have the fit body, the money, the fame, the accomplishments, the family — you name it.
But what many people don’t realize is all the hard work and sacrifice it took behind the scenes to get to that point.
I had the privilege of interviewing Gabrielle Reece, a world-class sand volleyball athlete, model, fitness trainer, author, wife, and mother. In talking with Gabby, I got the sense that she may have it all, but she’ll be the first to admit that it hasn’t been handed to her on a silver platter. She has worked incredibly hard for everything.
We first talked about childhood adversity, her volleyball career, and how she paid her way through college by modelling. Then, we got into her best relationship advice (she and husband Laird have been married 20 years and have three daughters) and wisdom she has learned on how to take care of yourself.
I loved the insight she had on the importance of empowering alpha males to stand in their power. We also discussed her views on the importance of knowing your own worth despite what others may think of you.
There were so many great “aha” moments in this interview. Let’s dive in!
Who Is Gabrielle Reece?
Gabrielle “Gabby” Reece is a professional beach volleyball legend, model, New York Times bestselling author, wife, and mother. She is also the creator of HIGHX® fitness program, co-founder of XPT®, and executive member of Laird Superfood® with her husband Laird Hamilton, a professional surfer.
A Florida State star turned pro, Gabby trained hard to hone her skills in two-person beach volleyball and competed domestically in the 1999-2000 Olympic four-on-four Challenge Series and the 1999-2000 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour. In 1997, competing with the best global beach volleyball players ever assembled, Gabby’s four-person team took first place at the first-ever Beach Volleyball World Championships.
That year was Gabby’s fifth season as team captain in the four-person Women’s Beach Volleyball League (WBVL), and her fourth year captaining Team Nike. Named the “Offensive Player of the Year” in 1994-95 and Women’s Beach Volleyball League (WBVL) blocks leader, Gabby led the WBVL in kills four straight years in a row from 1993-1996.
To say the least, Gabby is extremely accomplished. She not only is a star athlete but also has been married for 20 years and has three daughters. She has managed to juggle a lot which she says she is used to, because growing up she didn’t have it easy.
A Rocky Start in Life
Gabby was born in California but didn’t stay there long. Her mom was training dolphins in Mexico City in a circus, so Gabby lived there as a small child. When she was about two years old, she got whooping cough, so a couple who were childhood friends with her mother took Gabby in to live with them in Long Island, New York, for five years.
During that time her biological father passed away in a plane crash. When she was seven, her mom got remarried to a man from Puerto Rico, and she came to take Gabby to live with them in Puerto Rico. Then they moved to St. Thomas where Gabby lived until she was 15.
It wasn’t until Gabby moved to St. Pete, Florida, in the eleventh grade that she was introduced to volleyball. She got really into basketball as well and took both sports very seriously.
“I had a great coach. And then my senior year, I played both sports, and the joke was, I had about five or six offers for volleyball and about 30 for basketball because I had a better coach.” – Gabby Reece
When she was doing NCAA, she played two years on scholarship and then gave up her scholarship to model because it made more sense financially for her to work. She explained that modeling was a business choice for her.
“When I was growing up, people weren’t like, you’re so great, you’re so pretty. They were like, you’re giant!” – Gabby Reece
A towering figure at 6’3” by the age of 15, her height was a part of her identity, but she didn’t let it define her.
“I wasn’t walking around like a rooster, but I wasn’t tormented by my height either.” – Gabby Reece
Because she wasn’t born into the most stable situation, she was first focused on survival. She looked around at her life, and once she turned 18, she knew she had the power to build the kind of life that she always wanted.
“I knew clearly very young that I thought there were certain things that were very hard for my mother or the couple who took care of me, and I wanted to make it easier. I mean, we never had cars really that worked well, and I remember being with radiators that were overheating, thinking, ‘I don’t want to spend days of my life putting water in a radiator before you take it somewhere.’” – Gabrielle Reece
So Gabby worked really hard for many years and put in many hours into volleyball. It became the anchor in her life amidst all the instability with her family. She turned the pain and anger she felt from her mother’s choices and turned it into purpose. She made an inner vow that her life was going to be different.
Gabby played her last “mini-season” of beach volleyball when she was 40.
“I was like, fine, you can drag me out for one more … fine. It’s a natural game for me. I like it, but it’s hard on my knees. It did all my 80 years of jumping in 25 years.” – Gabby Reece
Gabby admitted that she had to overcome the challenge of having a fake knee from her years of playing volleyball. It used to get her down, but now she has learned how to push past that and think of all the things she still does have in life.
“I think when competing in sports, what I learned was the joy of movement. And even, you know, the discomfort of training, I always say most athletes kind of enjoy the grind on some level. It’s not that they love all of it, you know, but they do. There’s something in it for them. Also, it’s very real. You just couldn’t really fake it. You had to deliver.” – Gabby Reece
After delivering those skills tournament after tournament, it was time for Gabby to retire from volleyball and pursue health and fitness in other disciplines.
Health and Relationships Beyond Volleyball
Gabby is very holistic when it comes to health — including physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. She wrote the New York Times Bestseller My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life to help women ditch the vision that life needs to be anywhere close to perfect. It includes hilarious stories, wise insights, and concrete takeaways on topics ranging from navigating relationships, ageing gracefully, and getting smart with nutrition.
Gabby has learned a lot about relationship wisdom from her marriage to Laird Hamilton. She openly talks about their ups and downs and doesn’t put on a facade that her marriage has been easy.
“Laird and I have been together 20 years, and there have been a few times that it was touch and go if we were going to continue on. By no means do I want to sell it that it has been smooth. You learn the rhythm and the dance. You say, ‘Are we going to try to learn the language of each other or aren’t we?’” – Gabby Reece
Gabby explained that if she was “with herself” all day, she would be bored to death. She and her husband balance each other out. Her advice for looking for a significant other or spouse is to pick your top five traits or non-negotiables and then throw everything else out the door. This was important for her because both of them have very strong personalities.
“We’ve had people go, ‘Well, it must be hard. You two are very strong.’ But you leave it [your pride] at the door. I don’t want to antagonize Laird. I’m not here to provoke him. I’m not here to agitate him. You know, when I see people that live together and I can see the kind of actually trying to push each other’s buttons, I’m like, life is too short. It’s already hard enough as it is. So being with an alpha male, you have to kind of let them be their strong male self.” – Gabby Reece
Gabby loves her relationship with Laird now, and they have three beautiful daughters. She realizes that marriage and children are not the end-all, be-all for happiness. And her happiness is not the responsibility of her husband, it’s her own job to take care of herself.
Being a Positive Role Model for Women
Gabby is clear that she doesn’t push the narrative that women need to be married and have kids to find happiness. She encourages women to be independent on their own as well and to chase after the things they are passionate about.
“I think everybody has an individual walk. I think it’s first, ‘Who am I? What am I good at? How do I want to express myself? What are my passions?’ And I think it’s very important to take care of yourself. I think exercise and eating well is a great start. The other thing that happens to women is we go through the process of being in a family and having children. And then we get spit out of that, and we’ve lost our identity. So how do you put everyone else first and simultaneously not lose yourself?” – Gabby Reece
For Gabby that means taking time out of the week for herself and following the passions that she wants to pursue, such as building her High X curriculum which is now in 24-hour fitness gyms across the U.S.
Her curriculum is different because you’re working out on a team of two, four, or six, like in volleyball. It creates diversity and accountability. What she has heard from women over the past 20 years is that they don’t have the time to work out and they don’t know where to start. High X helps them with a variety of plans and workouts, whether it’s meditation, stretching, running, or a class.
Gabby is passionate about helping others take the best care of themselves inside and out and occupying the space to be able to do that. She realizes in each season of life, we are occupying new spaces and representing something that people need.
The lessons she has learned from sports have translated so well to holistic wellbeing. Here are her top six:
- Believe in yourself even when something is scary or unknown.
- Decide to deal with your fear and anxiety.
- Get out of your own way and enjoy winning.
- Understand that timing is important.
- Have personal accountability for your actions.
- Practice self-discipline every day.
“I don’t get out of bed every morning saying I’m so excited to exercise. I’ve created an infrastructure to be successful.” – Gabby Reece
It’s also been important for her and for Laird to surround themselves with people who are going to speak positively about their abilities instead of complaining about how “old” they are getting.
“Your belief system is a reflection of the people who are in your world.” – Gabby Reece
Most importantly, she reminded us to give ourselves grace. You might mess up and eat too much one day or not exercise. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Tomorrow is a new day to start over. You don’t have to wait until New Years’ to have a new resolution.
Why You Should Listen to This Gabby Reece Podcast Episode Right Now…
I like to ask my podcast guests this big question: What do you think you were put on this earth to do? Gabby believes she is here to help others take better care of themselves.
“[My purpose would] represent the idea of, let’s try to take care of ourselves, let’s see if we can arrive at forms of happiness, let’s see if we can accept where we are in our life, [and] let’s not be afraid of what’s uncomfortable and messy about life. That’s the other thing too — I’m actually not interested in perfection. … I don’t find it interesting. I like when people are like, ‘This is real, this is how it is.’”
She also wants to be that person that celebrates other people’s victories because community is so important in living a healthy lifestyle. We’re not meant to do anything alone.
Gabby lives by these three truths:
- Being truthful is always the best way.
- Don’t take anything personally. It’s not about you.
- Don’t be afraid to let someone go ahead of you.
- BONUS — Say yes to positive opportunities.
I wanted to acknowledge Gabby for her commitment to serving women and being an example. She is so committed and grounded at the same time. She really does have it all, and it’s really inspiring for me to witness and be around her energy.
When I asked Gabby what her definition of greatness is, she believes that greatness is defined when you can get your external life to reflect who you truly are on the inside.
“Are you true to yourself, and does your outer life reflect who you are and your essence on the inside? Because that takes a level of courage and commitment. Any time we can do that, it’s one of the greatest opportunities in life.” – Gabby Reece
Friends, this was such a fun interview! Beyond her accomplishments, I just think Gabby is such an incredible human being. I’m loving everything I’m seeing that she does online and all the things that she supports. So make sure to check her out and give her some love. You can visit her website and send her a tweet to let her know what you enjoyed most about this interview!
Also, if you want to listen to the full interview, you can head on over to my website and search for Episode 215.
Thank you for joining us. I hope you get out there today and spread some greatness into your world!