Gabrielle Reece has been called one of the world’s most influential women in sports and one of its most beautiful athletes. In her 20s, she built a career as both a fiercely competitive pro volleyball player and a fashion model. Since then, she’s written books and become an expert on women’s peak fitness and overall well-being, all while raising three daughters with her husband, Hawaiian surfer Laird Hamilton. Plus, she volunteers for environmental organizations such as the National Resources Defense Council and RainCatcher, a nonprofit bringing safe drinking water to people in need.
How do you find time for and balance all the roles you play in life—athlete, spouse, parent, businesswoman and volunteer?
Juggling life is hard for everyone. Living day-to-day, taking care of kids and paying bills is a challenge. There are ways to make it all more manageable, but for me, there is a level of discomfort, challenge and difficulty, as well as moments of joy. I think women are sometimes thrown off-balance by some difficulty, instead of saying, “OK, how am I going to strategize and make it all work for me and my family?”
We don’t give enough credit to having great girlfriends. I don’t mean people you go to lunch with—I mean real allies. People that give you good advice and are strong for you, that will take your kids and you’ll take theirs. I think that is an underutilized tool. I always encourage women to approach life with a strategy and use each other to help navigate it, because that makes it a little easier.
Which role is most important to you and where does self-care fit in?
At this time in my life, being a mother is the most important. When my girls are older and more independent, then their demands on my time will lessen. But I don’t think I’d ever blindly put one role over the other, because they are all connected. I just approach them with different parts of my personality. My work is intellectual, while being a mom is instinctual. Being in a relationship is a whole other ball of wax that I approach with the same diligence. Taking care of myself is at the center because I wouldn’t be able to do anything successfully if I am not well myself.
With your busy schedule, how do you find time to work out and stay in shape?
I think it’s been about momentum. I had the good fortune of training and eating well since I went off to play volleyball in college. That sort of steam made it easier as I added work, a partner and children. I think it’s more difficult for women that don’t have that experience. When they enter “the real world” and add a big career or long hours, a partner or family, it becomes difficult to establish that grounding in healthy practices.
You have to create the environment in which you are going to succeed. That takes years. At some point, you have to be honest with yourself. For me, I know I won’t get exercise or anything else done if I stay home. There are some things I can go to a gym to do that I can also do at home but know I won’t, so it’s about creating an environment that activates good intentions.
How do you choose to expend your volunteer efforts?
Laird and I are usually quick to be on board with anything that involves the environment and people. These causes are near and dear to everybody, but make special sense for us, given the amount of time we have lived and worked outside.
As a mother, do you feel a special concern for being a good environmental steward?
I felt this way even before I had children because I had the luxury of playing beach volleyball. I grew up in the Caribbean and have always tried to be a benefactor of the beautiful outdoors. It adds another layer of motivation when you start thinking about your kids and the opportunities they will or will not have in their future.
In Hawaii, the Polynesians traditionally didn’t believe in ownership, but in being stewards of an area. That’s how I feel about the place where we live now. The ultimate for me would be to leave it better than I found it.
Christine MacDonald is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., whose specialties include health and science. Visit ChristineMacDonald.info