Mother, athlete and multimedia icon Gabrielle Reece sets a model example in Hawaii

On a long, steep, narrow, muddy road with sweeping views of the Hanalei River and Na Pali mountains, Gabrielle Reece negotiates a massive Ford truck – equipped with four-wheel drive and a toddler’s car seat – toward an excavator clearing trees where her new home will stand.

She gestures to the operator cabin of the clawing machine perched on the switchback below and says, “Laird’s in there.” Indeed, her husband – legendary waterman Laird Hamilton – is driving the excavator. When he hears her call “Babe!” he hops out to greet her. Like any married couple busy raising young children and managing careers and projects, they haven’t seen each other all day. He shares his progress and explains the orientation of the house to the sunrise. She tells him about the challenge of borrowing his 40-pound weight vest for her four-mile stand-up paddle that morning. They part again with a sweet, understated affection, knowing they will reconvene for a family dinner, as always. She returns to their children in a rented house in Princeville, and he heads for the chain saw.

“Of course he could hire someone, but you understand things more when you do the work,” she says. “You can talk all you want, but it’s in the action. Our kids see us doing. Laird is a hard-working person.”

And anyone who spends a few hours with Reece can see that she is every inch his equal (quite literally, in fact, as they are both 6 foot 3). Gabby, as she is widely known, possesses a resumé that goes on for pages:

* Former collegiate and professional volleyball player with blocking records that still stand
* Magazine cover model
* Television host and celebrity interviewer
* Spokeswoman
* Writer
* Fitness guru
* Actress

But any one of these labels doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of the devoted wife and mother who is rarely, if ever, away from her children.

Before offering a tour of their construction project, Reece slips into a back table in the surfboard-adorned eatery Kalypso in Hanalei, full of apologies for running slightly late. Mom duty, of course. A considerate text arrived in advance: Hi just grabbing kids and will be there in 15 … if u r hungry please order. Thx, gabby.

Does she want food in the middle of the afternoon? She tilts her head and shrugs. “I can always eat.” Stunning and statuesque, Reece is one of those models whose teal green eyes and flawless skin look even more beautiful in person – sans makeup – than in photographs. Capable of polish and glamour, she’s far more comfortable in a T-shirt, modest denim skirt and slippers (“When you’re 6-3, you’re not walking around going, ‘Isn’t this trendy?'” she laughs). Tricep muscles pop from her arms when she gestures in animated conversation.

Yet for all her exterior beauty, Reece’s calm self-assurance and quick humor transcend her physical attributes. This is a woman who seems utterly secure with who she is and feels no need to present anything less than authenticity, even when it’s not ideal.

“I have no interest in pretending that everything is perfect,” she says. “What you see is what you get. I don’t have anything to hide.” And her husband? “Laird grew up on Kauai; his feet are through the ground.”

Born in California and raised mostly in the Caribbean (her father, who was half-black, died when she was 5), Reece earned a volleyball scholarship to Florida State University. After turning professional at 22, People magazine placed her on its “most beautiful” list, and her modeling and television career took off, helping sustain a 10-year run on the low-paying beach volleyball circuit.

Pregnancy quickly followed retirement from professional sports. Daughter Reece Viola was born five years ago, joining Gabby’s step-daughter, 13-year-old Bella. The newest addition is daughter Brody Jo, now 1. Though her schedule remains hectic, there’s no question that family is her top priority.

“I don’t care what it’s for, I’m going to make the best use of the time,” she says of the work and travel she juggles and condenses. “My kids are only young once, so I can’t mess around with that.”

A typical day on Kauai begins with Gabby preparing breakfast for everyone before working out. She may stand-up paddle (often towing daughter Reece on a board behind her), play volleyball, run on the soft sand at Lumahai beach or complete an intense 75-minute weight and core circuit in the gym that she concedes is “pretty rigorous.” Then she’ll play with the kids and work at home, which involves phone calls, interviews and writing for Shape magazine, Yahoo! Health, Huffington Post and her own Web site, Honeyline (www.thehoneyline. com). Created with the idea that all women have a honeyline – their four or five best girlfriends who can help with anything – Gabby has enhanced that with health, fitness and nutrition tips, and streaming video from her interviews on The Rachael Ray Show with celebrities like Eva Longoria and Sheryl Crow. She wants Honeyline to evolve into a one-hour weekly television show featuring all of these components. From there, she hopes to build the Web site into an entity that allows people to start their own regional honeylines on any topic.

Afternoons and evenings are devoted to prepping dinner and spending time with Hamilton and their children. She grocery shops and cooks; when he’s not training, making appearances or filming a surf movie in another part of the world, he’s in charge of bath time. For the most part, they live a fairly simple life.

But they do splurge. Indulgences include homes in Malibu and on Maui and Kauai. Because they split their time between California and Hawaii, they have started home-schooling young Reece. Gabby knows this is a luxury, as is the ability to purchase high-quality, healthy food. She also hires someone to help with her children during the day so that she can work at home. Most of all, their greatest extravagance is the ability to control their schedules. “You can keep the fancy diamonds and $15,000 purses, and let me be in control of my own time,” she says. “What greater thing is there?”

Though she appears to have stopped the aging process years ago, at 39, Gabby is aware of the approaching milestone. “So much of my life is based on the outside … how I look,” she says, admitting that she isn’t immune to worrying about how growing older might affect her career and parenting. When those concerns creep in, however, she quickly shifts her attention to how good she feels. Her primary inspiration is Hamilton – fitter than ever at 45. Besides, challenge is what makes you feel alive, she insists, not youth.

Even so, she abides by her beauty regimen, which includes plenty of sunscreen and effective stress management. “Everyone has stress,” she says. “It’s how you process it.”

Part of this includes nurturing her 11-year-marriage to Hamilton. The most important component? “We take care of ourselves first, so there’s a certain amount of self-happiness,” she explains. “Your physical health is your No. 1 asset. You don’t compromise that for anyone.”

When he’s around, Hamilton is engaged with the family in a way that makes Gabby and the children feel loved and adored. “(He supports) whatever it’s going to take for me to feel happy and accomplished,” she says. “I don’t need a lot of maintenance. I don’t need to go to the movies with Laird. And if Laird wanted to be somewhere else, he’d let me know.” Despite the difficulties that every couple faces over many years together, “both of us have been able to exercise understanding and forgiveness and look at the big picture. There comes a time when we can switch gears and be friends and not take everything so personally.”

It also helps that she genuinely appreciates what her spouse brings to the relationship. “That’s why I stay so interested in him,” she continues. “He’s moving even when he’s still. He’s so full of life. That energy is very inspiring.”

This gratitude is part of Gabby’s earthiness. Yet nothing about her is average. Though she understands the challenges of family life and can relate to most people on that level, she’s also the first to admit that her existence – especially in their movie-star social circle in Malibu – is quite different.

But the fact that she never professes to be more or less than she is undoubtedly has helped her in Hawaii, where “the locals are super cool to us,” she says. “I’m a visitor in Hawaii. I treat people with respect. I walk with my head low. And because I do that, people are really nice. In Hawaii, people don’t care what you do, they really care who you are. But that’s always been my thing: Be true to what works for you.”

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