Big Girl in the Middleby Gabrielle Reece, Karen Karbo
At six-foot-three and 170 pounds, Gabby Reece is at once beautiful and brutish, feminine and rowdy, accessible and/i>
"It used to be a woman could be a great athlete; then it was okay to be an athlete and a babe. I want to show women that you can be a great athlete, a babe, a brain. You can be everything you are without apologizing." --Gabrielle Reece
At six-foot-three and 170 pounds, Gabby Reece is at once beautiful and brutish, feminine and rowdy, accessible and intimidating -- a woman who is exploding female stereotypes and redefining our image of the female athlete. Big Girl in the Middle is the story of the gangly girl who turned into one of the world's great beauties. At seven years old, Gabby was already five feet tall. By the time she was 18 she was a professional model. Big Girl in the Middle is the personal story of Gabby's eventful and difficult childhood and how her chosen path of athleticism, though often difficult and lonely, led to self-discovery and immense success. Loosely structured around the volleyball season, Big Girl in the Middle takes a look at how she maintains focus and balance without losing sight of her aspirations and goals, both professional and personal.
Gabby, along with journalist and novelist Karen Karbo, tells of the successes and failures, the glories and pain of being a female athlete. While she accepts and even utilizes her sex-symbol status, Gabby works hard at being a respected athlete, displaying her wit and intelligence at every turn. She accomplishes these things by tapping into her aggressive, competitive side without losing sight of her emotional center or her femininity. Gabrielle Reece is an inspiration to all girls and women who want to become the heroes of their own lives.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.02(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Friday Morning Grind
Gabrielle Reece likes to roar. When she's frustrated, she opens her large, much-photographed mouth and heaves forth a sound beloved of five-year-old boys playing monster. Errggghhhhhh! Today, at Southern California's Manhattan Beach, dressed in her uniform -- black running tights, black sports top, black visor emblazoned with a white NIKE swoosh -- she leans forward at the waist, carotid arteries snaking up either side of her long, strong neck, clenches her fists, opens her mouth wide and roars. Again and again, she roars. Sometimes the roar is followed by a half-swallowed curse. Farge! Profanity earns you a red card from the ref; a red card gives a point and the volleyball to the other team.
Even though we live in a time when a certain amount of female brutishness is considered to be spirited, and thus sexy, there are still limits, big ones. One thing women of the '90s have in common with every woman from Mary Magdalene up through Hillary Clinton is the feeling that there are boundaries beyond which you must not go, or else be written off as unacceptable. To flourish personally, professionally and, in the case of someone like Gabby, in the public eye, you must still refrain from being too opinionated or too emotional or too successful. A recent cartoon in The New Yorker shows two men at a cocktail party; one says to the other, "She's your type. Good-looking, some money, not too much ambition."
There is something you must understand about Gabby's roar. There is nothing remotely attractive about it. It's genuine, unfiltered human expression.Gabby's roar is -- like just about everything else about Gabby -- is a shade past the pale. It's a too big sound from a too big girl who turned bigness and buffness and brute strength to her advantage.
Gabby's roar comes out when she's frustrated, and she's frustrated a lot these days. It's the middle of the summer, the middle of her 4th season playing middle blocker on the Bud Light Professional Beach Volleyball Tour; the middle of a losing streak. Team NIKE, her team, cannot seem to put together anything resembling a winning streak. Unlike every other women's team on the tour, Team Norelco, Team Paul Mitchell, Team Discus, and Team Sony AutoSound, Team NIKE has never made it to the Finals. Not once.
But these are big picture facts that Gabby tries not to think about at 11:30 a.m. on this Friday morning in the middle of July, Round Three of the three day tournament, Team NIKE versus Team Norelco, Shoes Versus Nubs. The most hazardous seconds during a volleyball game are the 45 seconds or so before service when your mind can sabotage your game. When you might, if you were Gabby, start thinking that you need a win more than any other team, if only to prove that you're not doomed to spend the entire rest of the season losing. When you might start thinking how this year, more than any other, you've put it all out there. You've got the stats, you've got the awards, but this year, you wanted to both dominate the center and captain a first place team. First place, nothing else. And there you are in fifth. Fifth place out of five teams. A bad dream that shows no signs of ending.
But you can't think that, you mustn't, and all players know this, Gabby especially. She knows it's what's happening on the sand, this instant. And at this instant one of Gabby's teammates, also her roommate, a quiet girl named Jennifer Meredith rushes a shot and thwacks the ball straight into the middle of the net. Jen looks frustrated. Gabby roars. Tennis great and veteran grunter Monica Seles was publicly chastised for less.
Despite Gabby's status as someone famous, there are not many people around to watch her play on this Friday morning in mid-July. On Friday, the day before the weekend, when the tournament is routinely crowded with the usual smacking-of-good health-and-good-cheer California beach crowd, the scene is grungier than you might expect.
The ocean at Manhattan Beach is a disconcerting olive green, the breaking waves trimmed with pale green lace. Tiny, tobacco-colored moth flies alight on piles of kelp. Whenever the wind shifts, the tonic salt air is undercut by the carnival aromas of cocoa butter, fried foods, and incense. A blimp swims overhead. Fair grounds-by-the-sea.
This is the first year the Bud Light Pro Beach Men's Tour and Women's Tour have been combined in a single event -- the Men's tournament alternating with the Women's -- which accounts for some teams having to play to whoever strolls past on Friday morning.
Sure, it seems like an up-and-running, fully-operational professional sporting event; they have Smashing Pumpkins blasting from the speakers at the Sony AutoSound Truck, and the giant white Paul Mitchell shampoo bottle balloon is up and tethered between two sets of bleachers, and there is a girl with neat hair posted at the Paul Mitchell booth cradling a wicker basket of sample envelopes of Super Clean Hair Gel, but the tunes are grooved upon mostly by the roadies still assembling the bleachers, and the shampoo samples go unspoken for. What the organizers of the Bud Light tour have either failed to consider, or didn't care to, was that most people who might follow beach volleyball as a serious sport have something to do on Friday that forces them to miss the first day of play. Like jobs, kids, summer school.
The pleasing irony is that this fledgling quality is what makes beach volleyball attractive; the organizers and sponsors of the sport may be in it for the usual reasons, but the players are in it for love, and for a public weary of sports as big business, its a balm. Discovering the sport is like heading for Bali on an over-booked charter and stumbling upon a virgin beach. It's refreshing, and at the same time frustrating, that in an age when professional sports are over-covered by the media, there's rarely a whisper about beach volleyball in the local paper.
It's unlikely you'd find mention of beach volleyball in the L.A. Times. Especially on this day, in the middle of July. It is July 17, a big news day sports-wise which means money-as-it-relates-to-sports-wise.
On Page One, headlines: a 24-year-old actor, rapper, restaurant owner, spokesman for Reebok, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell & KFC, and basketball player, Shaquille O'Neal signed a 7-year, $120 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. (O'Neal's contract breaks down to about $17 million a year, a million more than Lakers owner Jerry Buss bought the entire team for in 1979.) There is also an all-Shaq section. Articles on The Agent; The Competition; The New-Look Lakers; the Uniform; The TV Picture; Around the NBA; Assessing the Lakers; The Money Trail.
We also have The Olympics, on home turf, in Atlanta where, if you believe the hype, women will figure big, particularly women in the traditionally over-looked team sports: basketball, softball, volleyball and, for the first time, beach volleyball.
Page One of the Business section has this: Some 50 advertisers have paid an average of $500,000 each for 30 second prime time spots during Olympic coverage. Coca-Cola will air 100 different commercials, one time each, spending $62 million for the privilege. The honor of being an official Olympic sponsor can be purchased for $40 million; for a scant 1.5 to 2 million you can sponsor the entire Bud Light Pro Beach Volleyball Tour; for $90,000 -- petty cash! -- you can sponsor your own team.
At the back of the sports section proper, in the part of the paper that resembles the stock exchange listings, we learn that the Padres have ended somebody's losing streak, and that the British Open is underway. There are smeary stats from the last Dodgers and Angels games, updates on Roller Hockey and Arena Football, Bowling and Minor League Baseball. Nothing about the doings of one the most popular female athletes in America; a recent ESPN poll puts Gabrielle Reece at #7, somewhere between Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Nancy Kerrigan.
While Shaq is putting the ink on a contract so outrageous that it inspires a reexamination of the Seven Deadly sins, while the big dogs at Coke are mainlining Maalox, hoping their $62 million buck investment will pay off, Gab is at work. Roaring and sweating and burning the bottoms of her feet on the sand -- other players wear white cotton anklets or reef runners, silly looking with their body hugging lycra bicycle shorts and sports tops, but so what; Gab prefers to burn the bottoms of her feet; the socks are too distracting -- and losing, still losing. Gab is at work, getting her ass kicked on a beach whose name pops up only in the Fish Report.
There is no question that Gabby wouldn't prefer to be one of the much-lauded female athletes preparing to go to Atlanta. Despite the corruption of the Olympics by the market, the on-going fuss about amateurism versus professionalism that never quite rises to the level of a balls-out debate, and the tacky opening ceremonies that have come to resemble the endless opening number for the Oscars, the Olympics remain for an athlete -- especially an athlete in an unheralded sport -- the pinnacle of achievement.
But Gabby's game is not Doubles, the game making its debut this July, but four person volleyball, and so she is here on the beach, with her team, grinding. It is Gabby's commitment for the summer, and it is part of her personal code to honor her commitments.
Shaquille O'Neal is the new breed of professional athlete; his profession is not his sport, but creating a need for his image as an athlete who plays it. He's the guy who makes more money off his endorsement contract than he does his sport. The one who gets so rich he sets his family up in business; he gets his mom a commercial and his brother manages his finances, he is his own corporation. The sport -- the activity at which he truly excels -- is secondary. It is the idea of him as athlete that has made him a hero; his sport, like the eventual fate of our little toes, falls away, no longer needed. The old-style athlete is the professional athlete; the new style athlete is the entrepreneurial athlete.
Gabby Reece is a new style athlete. Not in the slam-dunking, body-banging, racking-up-the-stats sense, but in the multi-faceted, worker of the media sense. In the post modern, post-Warholian American sense. In the gorgeous, charismatic sense. In the smile that can launch a thousand ships sense, and the strength to sink a few single-handedly sense.
Gabby's resume isn't all that different from Shaq's. Over the past four years she's come out of nowhere to occupy the white-hot center of popular culture, a distinguished nexus of TV, fashion and sports. Her face stares out from the covers of a cross section of magazines that represent the new female ideal she's come to represent: Elle and Outside, Harper's Bazaar and Shape. At the peak of her modelling career in the late 1980s, Gabby pulled down as much $35,000 a day. She made a hit with the Beavis and Butthead crowd as the host of MTV Sports, a show that profiled the kind of eyeball-bulging pursuits that typically raise life-insurance premiums, like drag racing, street luging, bungee jumping, and skydiving.
The short-lived The Extremists with Gabrielle Reece, which covered the same sort of terrain, was aired in 40 countries worldwide. A one-time fitness columnist for Elle, now a consulting editor for Conde Nast's SPORTS for Women, she is also one of NIKE's marquee athletes whose Air Trainer Patrol cross-training shoe she helped design; she was, in fact, the first woman to promote her own Nike shoe. Hollywood is has been courting her for years -- offering mostly roles that feature large weapons and thong bikinis.
But Gabby -- despite the cool countenance, despite the glamour oozing from every perfect pore, despite the fact she is in every way killer -- is not Shaq. She is a woman, and she plays in what she calls "an unhyped sport."
Also, she lives by some shockingly old-fashioned principals. One of the first being that waving your tear sheets and contracts around is no form of occupation. "I'm willing to be babe for a living," Gabby has said on a number of occasions. "I know it's part of the gig." But it's the grinding that makes Gabby able to live with herself.
For in The Gospel According to Gab, if you don't work, if you don't grind, don't sweat or burn the bottom of your feet, don't roar, you don't deserve to win. And it's not just that. If she, Gabrielle Reece, one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People of the Year, one of Elle's Five Most Beautiful Women in the World, one of Shape's buffest babes in the solar system, or some other impossible-to-live-up-to-accolade, if she permitted herself to spend half the time basketball and football and baseball players do being photographed behind the ubiquitous gaggle of microphones about her own multi-million dollar deal -- and yes, she does have one, with NIKE -- the world would see one thing and one thing only: a beautiful girl, cashing in on her beauty.
Meet the Author
Karen Karbo is the author of two novels, Trespassers Welcome Here and The Diamond Lane. Her nonfiction essays have appeared in Esquire, Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, the New Republic, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. Her story on America3, the all-women's America's Cup Team, originally published in Outside magazine, appeared in The Best American Sports Writing of 1996. She lives in Portland, Oregon
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This book is great. She doesn't lie about her feelings or life. She tells it like it is. Gabriella Reece is also a great inspiration for people of all ages. I reccommend this book to everyone.