24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Gabby Watson

March 19, 2014

24 Hawkeyes to Watch Video

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — An interesting thing happened on Gabrielle Watson’s way to a University of Iowa choir audition. She took a detour toward the P. Sue Beckwith Boathouse and…

“It was magic after that,” said Watson, a third-year member of the Hawkeye women’s rowing team.

How Watson came to the UI, and how she joined the rowing team, make for interesting discussion.

Watson’s father, Gregory, was adamant that his daughter visit at least three colleges before making a final decision. Watson knew her father’s deadline was approaching, yet she procrastinated. One day, while sitting in an after-school program at Danville (Ill.) High School, a classmate named Lauren Drennan shared her excitement about being accepted onto the Hawkeye swimming team. That information came in handy when Watson returned home that evening.

“When I got home my dad asked, `OK, what are your three schools?’ Watson remembers. “I said, umm, Illinois, Illinois State, and Iowa. Iowa just came out, but we booked the orientation, I came here, and absolutely loved it. It is all because of (Drennan) speaking about being accepted to Iowa. I never researched this place, but we came here and loved it.”

Watson didn’t participate in athletics in high school, opting instead for show choir and a capella groups. It’s not that she didn’t enjoy athletics, her 5-foot-8, muscular frame made Watson an ideal shot put and discus thrower in junior high. She attended basketball camps; her father played football and basketball at Kansas Wesleyan University.

“The (show choir) competition seasons were at the same time (as athletics) in high school,” Watson said. “I had done show choir in middle school, excelled at it and decided to go on and pursue that in high school.”

Watson thought she would continue with music at the UI. Her main area of academic interest was audiology, but she didn’t want to quit her pursuit of music. The ink had not dried on her choir audition signature when former Hawkeye novice rowing coach Courtney Valerious approached Watson at orientation.

You are tall, Valerious told Watson. You look pretty athletic, Valerious added. Why don’t you join the rowing team?

“(Valerious) was very convincing,” Watson said. “She really sold the program. I came to college saying I was going to pursue music, but when I got the opportunity to do rowing, I thought, `Why not try something new?'”

That news was music to her father’s ears.

“Any time someone in high school would ask if his daughters played sports, (my dad) would say, `No, they do music,’ Watson said. ” When he heard I was doing a sport, he was like, `That’s amazing, my daughter’s a rower now.'”

In her third season with the UI program, Watson has introduced herself for a third time to a different UI head coach. In 2011-12 it was Mandi Kowal, Steve Pritzker in 2012-13, and now Andrew Carter.

“One of the first things that stuck out is that she is very bright,” Carter said. “During my first opportunity to see her train it became obvious that she is a hard worker. She doesn’t make a lot of fuss about anything, there isn’t a lot of fanfare and she doesn’t draw a lot of attention to herself. But anybody who watches knows that she is absolutely a leader in that department on our team.”

Watson is majoring in communications science and disorders with a minor in linguistics.

“I want to be an audiologist,” she said. “I would like to work in a school; speech pathology is partnered with audiology, so possibly working in both of those.”

Watson’s love of music hasn’t passed. When free time permits, she can be found in her living room with her roommates, playing guitar. Or she might make a trip to Currier Hall and play the piano for hours.

While Watson knew she wouldn’t major in music at the UI, she had no idea she would become a Hawkeye student-athlete.

“It is a blessing,” she said. “I can’t imagine anything more. I had never seen or heard of rowing before and now it is basically my life. I’m so blessed to have my teammates and coaches who are always there to support me, and it makes me a better student and person because I am always held accountable.”

With two-a-day practices most of the week, there is no time for Watson to put off her studies. Homework gets completed on time and a support system exists for her to excel in the classroom.

And even though Watson didn’t experience sports in high school, she conveys a physical and leadership presence to the Hawkeye program.

“She brings a high level of what I would call athletic maturity to the table,” Carter said. “She seems to understand what it is we are trying to do when you talk about tactical aspects, training aspects, or even strategy and tactics. She is attentive and takes to it quite quickly. As a result, people tend to follow her. I’m not sure if she even recognizes that but people tend to follow what she is doing. She is a quiet leader.”

Believe it or not, there are plenty of similarities between excelling in show choir and excelling in rowing. Both require teamwork and coordination, both promote staying active and fit, both demand a healthy body.

“(Rowing) is very team oriented, which is a good thing,” Watson said. “It is kind of the same set up with show choir, definitely different intensity levels, but the team aspect that there are nine people in the boat and you have to be moving together. You could have a superstar in one seat and then maybe a person who has really good rhythm, but if you’re matched together and you’re moving together, that’s the main point to move the boat as fast as you can.”

The Hawkeyes open their spring season March 22 in Clemson, S.C., against Clemson, Buffalo, Duke, Kansas, and Purdue.