What’s Your Archetype? Interview with Gabby Reece

Spend just a few minutes talking with Gabrielle Reece, the former beach volleyball star, fitness expert, and green smoothie queen, and you sense she a women who is equal parts strength and soul (and Caregiver, according to her Archetype quiz). You might assume that the 43-year-old 6”3’ former model, who’s married to (the equally tall and blonde) big wave surfer Laird Hamilton and is a mother of three, leads a charmed, fairy tale life. What you learn in her wickedly funny, heartfelt new book, My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life (Scribner), is that happily ever after in the Reece-Hamilton household has ups and downs, and takes work, just like in everyone else’s house. The purpose of writing her book, she says, was to create a conversation, to let other women know who she is, what goes on in her life, and to share some of the ways she’s nurtured her own confidence and self-knowledge that can help them learn to feel better in their own skin. (Hint: Working out is the secret to everything.)

The dedication and commitment derived from athletics have served Reece well in her daily life — the skills of discipline and endurance now allow her to be a great moderator of her own universe, which means running her household — and keeping up with her family. And she still works out regularly, but her approach to training has changed. “Though I’ll always see myself as an Athlete,” she says, “I don’t train to stay lean. I train because it’s how I feel strong. The great thing about being an aging Athlete,” she adds, “is that you’re so much more efficient. You just don’t waste energy.” But again she’s happy to poke holes in the image many have of her. “People think that because of who I am, I bounce out of bed every morning like woohoo, I can’t wait to work out!” About half the time, she says, “I’d rather lie on the couch and eat a bowl of cereal.”

ARCHETYPEME: You say in your book that everything good in your life flows from working out and staying active. How so?

GABRIELLE REECE: In my mid-teens, at a time when I didn’t have great direction in life, this notion of discipline and movement created a structure that kept me moving forward. I would not have been able to go to college had I not gotten an athletic scholarship. While there I had a great coach who became a mentor, and I learned about teamwork. And then I learned on my own how to incorporate that lifestyle, and it helped me figure out who I was and how to deal with things.

Physical fitness gives you a sense of self-power, and more of a soul connection. Because it’s not just about the body — the greatest opportunities are when the body, mind, and spirit, all three, are firing. With a mind-body-spirit connection, you’re well equipped and armored to stand up for yourself, execute goals, deal with conflict. For women I think it’s especially empowering when they can connect on some level with their physical, other than how it looks — am I thin enough, am I a baby machine.

You run circuit training classes three times a week in a community center on Kaua’i. What’s it like?

It’s not for the faint-hearted! I have from 55 to 80 people in my class, ranging in age from 18 to 64. Twenty percent of the class are men. We use medicine balls, kettlebells, dumbbells, stability balls, jump ropes. People really challenge themselves. I can have Laird in there and he’s sweating! The best thing is when you see an older woman and some young guy, maybe 25, and she’s popping around doing this and that, and he’s struggling. My women discover their inner Athlete, their confident, aggressive side. Some will tell me they’ve been feeling a little bummed out and then after class they feel better. Those are the important things about fitness — to feel good, better in your brain. People sometimes look at me and think, Oh, it’s all about sports and jumping. And it’s not. It’s about creating the best, most fertile ground for being in life.

You live half the year on the lush Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. I’m guessing nature is important to you.

It puts you in your place. There’s something to be said for knowing that there are things so much greater and mightier than yourself, which will be here long after you’re gone. Puts things in perspective. As Laird says, we’re all equal before the waves. You’re beautiful, bang. You’re loaded, bang. You’re a little bit overweight, bang. You’re short, you’re tall — bang, bang. There is no prejudice. The rules of engagement are so straightforward and make such sense. To connect with nature is also to draw from the power, the peace, of nature, which helps us be in our more natural self.

So just out of curiosity, do you surf?

In the beginning of my marriage I did, on a longboard, and now I stand up paddle up the river. I decided a while ago, that’s Laird’s thing. I have girlfriends here in Kaua’i who surf and see Laird surfing because he’s where everyone else is. I have no interest in being up Laird’s shorts, and frankly I like the space. I love and adore my husband, but I’ll see him at dinner!

You’re a household with two prominent athletes. Is there any competitiveness?

No, but I do say that no matter what, when you cohabitate, you have to be conscious of a natural competition that occurs — you know, it’s like with siblings. There was a 10-year period where I decided to be with my kids, and simultaneously I stopped playing volleyball and being in that part of my life. And that was exactly the time my husband started to thrive professionally. I remember really feeling like, OK good for him. Being totally cool with it. Surrendering. You know, how can I help you? Because, sometimes you’re the farmer and sometimes you’re the flower. That’s just the way it is. Now that my kids are a little older and I have some ideas about the next things I want to do, then I might be shifting a little, but like I say in the book, other people’s victories are not your failures. And when you can celebrate them, it’s very liberating.

I once read that you were superstitious! Are you still?

It wasn’t like touch wood, drive the same way every time or anything. In tournaments I would play with a visor, glasses and a hair tie, and if I didn’t play well, I wouldn’t wear the hair tie, I’d give the glasses and the visor away. If I was on a roll, I’d wear the same hair tie for weeks. In my daily life I’m not so much [that way], but occasionally I’ll have a dream about Laird. Like if he’s away surfing, and I might have a really weird dream, I’ll inevitably get him on the phone — which is hard to do when they’re getting ready to surf — and I’ll be like, Hey, can you be heads up. And he’ll say OK. So I’m not superstitious, but one thing I’ve learned is that [intuition] is a muscle we all have, every one of us, and the more you flex it the more it’s there and the more you trust it. And then you stop apologizing for acting weird — you just know.

The Reece-Hamilton household are famously healthy eaters—green smoothies for breakfast, salads. But I also know you have a sweets drawer. What’s in there now?

Right now there are chocolate-covered almonds and Vosges dark chocolate with sea salt — it’s really good! For Laird, whole cashews and almonds; there’s a little dried fruit. Something really naughty in there are the chocolate covered caramels — those are for the girls!

For more on Gabby, and nutrition, fitness and motivation tips, visit gabbyandlaird.com.