It’s been a few years since volleyball star Gabrielle Reece competed professionally, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been crushing it in myriad other ways: Reece has worked as a fashion model, an ESPN host, a reality TV star and an actress (she played the role of a physical trainer in “Gattaca”), as well as a health and fitness writer for a number of publications including Yahoo! and Elle. In her bestselling memoir (co-authored with Karen Karbo), “Big Girl in the Middle,” she recounted her upbringing and career in sports. Now, in her new book with Karbo, “My Foot is Too Big for the Glass Slipper,” she gives readers a glimpse into her biggest life challenge yet: raising a family. In this exclusive essay for Bookish, Reece describes what being an athlete has taught her about being an “emotional coach” for her daughters and settling disputes with her husband, pro surfer Laird Hamilton. She also dishes on the sports lessons that don’t translate as “beautifully” into family life, where there is “no clear winner and loser.”
My sports background has translated beautifully, and at times awkwardly, into my role as Mom, working woman and loving wife. I can bring an athlete’s intensity to even the little things. I can see it now: I lather up with sunblock, put on my best-fitting Lycra pants (you know—the ones that do the anti-gravity thing to your rear) and yell out to my husband, “So what time does sex start?”
Right out of the gate you learn as an athlete that you’d better be physically conditioned to deal with whatever your opponent doles out. Your opponent in life could be sleepless nights, juggling 13 things at once all with a Vanna White smile or simply trying to keep the girl in the mirror looking like someone you recognize. Given the demands most women are dealing with today, it’s helpful to have that kind of conditioning. Here’s what I’ve taken from my life as an athlete into my family life—the good, the bad and the ugly.
Athletics have helped me to develop and maintain discipline. No, I don’t mean I get breakfast, lunch and dinner out on the table at precisely the same time every day. I mean the discipline to wait and assess before I react. Let’s say my husband and I are about to get into a trivial dispute simply because we’ve both had a long day. Instead of bickering, I try to look at the end goal and figure out a way to make a game plan to keep the peace and avoid the drama. Sure, if it’s something big I want to stand up for, I’m ready to go. However, as the years go by, you start to realize that so few things are really worth hassling over.
Playing sports taught me to communicate my feelings. Since I played team sports with a bunch of women, there were always a lot of feelings to deal with. Well, now that I have three daughters, there are still feelings floating around. Sometimes kids need an emotional coach. But other times, they just need a mom. There are plenty of instances where my girls don’t need strategy or a pep talk—they just need a hug.
When you compete in a sport you learn that even if you and your team are good, you still have to work at it every day. I have been with my husband 17 years, married for 15. I try not to approach our relationship like “I got this.” I work really hard at it every day because I know you can’t count on relationships to run on automatic pilot. Like sports, family life can be a grind. But if you are willing to take on the doldrums and the challenges, the rewards are so rich.
I learned through athletics to suck it up, and sometimes that’s not good. It took me a long time to ask my husband for help or to share my fears or anxieties. I would often just keep feelings pent up inside since I thought I should just handle everything, no matter what. That does work well when you’re training, but is not always the best idea for life.
All through my teens and 20’s I tried to get rid of any shred of self-doubt that held me back from being ruthlessly competitive. Now, as I have glided through my 30’s and into my 40’s, I’ve found myself trying to be less harsh with myself, my children, and my husband. I’ve learned to handle challenges with finesse versus sheer will and aggression.
When you compete in a game, there is a clear winner and loser. That’s not always true in life,and this is a lesson from sports I had to unlearn because I found out that two people in a disagreement can actually both be right. What?! No, no, no. I need to win and show you that you’re wrong. In my family life, I’ve learned to let go of being worried about winning at all. Talk about rewiring. Now I think a lot more about the end goal—for me, my girls, my husband—and what’s the best way to get there.