My Interview with Gabrielle J. (Gabby) Suver
By Carl Scharwath
I first met Gabby in our Central Florida YMCA where she worked part-time many years ago. I had a lot of conversations with Gabby between my workouts concerning her running and training. Competing in local 5Ks, I would always see Gabby way out front and consistently winning top female runner with her lightning-fast times. In the years gone by we lost touch until I saw her post on Facebook about her stunning accomplishment.
Gabby competed in her first Ironman World Championship in St. George, Utah and finished 10th place in her age group, against world elite female athletes. I just had to interview her and introduce our Runners Gazette readers to an amazing athlete, but first here is her biography:
Gabrielle Suver was a late bloomer. She started running towards the end of high school but always had a desire to run, and just didn’t have the opportunity until she switched high schools. She wasn’t anything special and her college running career was mediocre, but she was still new to the sport and battled an eating disorder all through high school among other health issues, and plenty of injuries that prevented her from optimizing her performance early in her career. She completely stopped running towards the end of college due to excessive injuries that were a consequence of years of malnutrition and switched to bike racing until an accident occurred during a race that required elbow reconstruction. She stopped racing bikes, started running again after graduating college, and went fully into triathlon by 2014.
As her body recovered from the damage of the eating disorder, she slowly became stronger and faster. In 2015 she started working with her coach, Rebecca Marsh of FR Racing, and was ranked 6th in the state of Florida All-American for triathlon by the end of the year. She continued to slowly climb the ranks through the years with many wins, some DNFS, highs, and lows as she battled numerous health issues. By the end of 2019 Gabrielle was ranked #1 in the USA for duathlon in her age group and turned professional in duathlon by 2020. In 2021 she finished her first full Ironman as 12th overall amateur female and 5th in AG30-34 in Chattanooga in September, and then enjoyed the distance so much that she jumped in another one in October with a 2nd overall female finish and took the 1st place AG30-34 champion jersey at the USAT Ultra Triathlon National Championships. This year she competed in her first Ironman World Championship in St George among the best triathletes from around the world and finished top 10 in AG 30-34.
CS: Good morning Gabby, we at the Runners Gazette are excited to have you here with us this morning. My first question is with all the challenges you had to overcome what was that driving force within you?
GS: Good morning and thank you so much for having me here. It really is an honor. Wow, that is a tough question. I would say that one of the biggest driving forces within me is my faith in God. My name “Gabrielle” means “God is my strength” and I’ve had to rely on Him a lot because I’m not very strong and have had many challenges throughout my life. My drive also comes from the love of the sport. I genuinely do enjoy running, biking, and swimming. I find it fun!
If I dig even deeper there are two points in my life that really come to mind where the driving force revealed itself. The first time was when I was a girl. I was very small, weak, and always sick when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I was also bullied a lot and struggled with depression. I was very quiet and shy, so I didn’t defend myself or tell anyone when hurtful things happened. I just took it and kept it in. One day in PE class we all had to sit on the bench and come up one at a time so the teacher could time us to run down the gym and back as fast as we could in front of the whole class. I was one of the last to go and was terrified. As I walked up to start, I remember seeing some classmates laughing at me already and I didn’t even run yet. My usual fear, dread, and hopelessness unexpectedly turned into anger and determination. I had enough of being a victim and wanted to prove everyone wrong. I ran with everything in my heart and ended up running the fastest time for a girl in that whole grade level. Everyone was shocked, I was shocked. I discovered that I could run so I fought back with running and it became my voice. I needed to prove to others and to myself that I’m not weak, that I don’t have to lie down and just accept everything, that I could stand up (or run) and be strong.
The other defining moment of my driving force came when I was running my senior year of High School while struggling with an eating disorder. I had the disorder long before I started running on the team, so I lost even more weight when I started running. By the time Senior year track season came I was too underweight to compete safely and was not allowed to run. I had just gotten my opportunity to run on a team, and then it was removed so I was devastated. I had to make a choice. I could continue the destructive path I was on, or I could fight back against everything my mind was telling me so I could get healthy and run. I chose to get healthy so I could run well. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life, and it took many years to recover. In the end, I wanted to be strong, and running made me feel strong.
CS: When you began training for a triathlon you had a coach. Do you think you ever would have begun training on your own and why?
GS: I didn’t have a coach for 2013 and most of 2014 so I trained on my own a lot. Some of my training was productive, but back then I didn’t know when to quit, had too much free time, and thought I had to do a massive amount of training to be good. I did a lot of dumb things like a challenge to ride 500 miles on a road bike in six days, mostly solo, which resulted in wrist tendonitis so I couldn’t ride for two weeks after that. I overdid it a lot back then and my body couldn’t handle that mindset for too long, so my health got worse and I was very inconsistent. There were many times when I was too weak and could barely train at all or be out in the sun and heat for too long because of a poorly controlled autoimmune condition among other things. In 2014 I worked with Coach Kim Archbold for a few months to get ready for USAT Olympic distance AG Nationals, but my body was so weak by that time that I struggled to just finish the race due to an almost constant fever and fatigue. I focused on resting and getting my health under control after Nationals and then started working with Coach Rebecca Marsh in 2015. I was very hard on myself, and not good at listening to my body back then or looking at my personal training objectively so having a coach really helped me train more productively, reeled in my eagerness to do more, and balanced my training load so that I was able to be more consistent. I liked having the accountability too.
CS: What is the one piece of advice concerning your training you would love to pass on to us?
GS: Being consistent and patient goes a long way. Results don’t happen fast, and sometimes it takes many years to get to the level you want. The key is to stick with it and plan for your training ahead of time so that you don’t have excuses to miss it. If I had an early morning bike workout before work, I would prepare the night before. I had my bike clothes ready in the bathroom, tires pumped, water bottles already filled, bike computer, mp3 player and heart-rate monitor ready on my bike, and work clothes ready in the bathroom to quickly change after training. I also had breakfast prepared the night before to grab and go on my way to work when I was in brick and mortar. If I had a run workout I had my headlamp, watch, HR monitor, music, water belt, and shoes ready to quickly put on in the bathroom as soon as I woke up. It really helps to prepare ahead so you can be as efficient as possible when time is tight.
CS: How do you stay motivated to keep training while you manage your other responsibilities?
GS: Staying motivated does get hard sometimes, especially when I train alone 95% of the time. During times when I struggle with motivation, I like to focus on the fact that I “get” to do this. I get to swim even though I have three plates and 15 screws in my elbow. I get to run even though there were many times when I could not run due to excessive injuries early in my career and I didn’t know if I could ever be able to run well or without some sort of injury. I get to ride my bike and ride outside in beautiful Clermont or ride inside on the trainer using Zwift. I had to go through physical therapy last year from episodes that were occurring on the bike that turned out to be complications from an old concussion that threatened my future outdoor riding. Thankfully I’ve been able to work with my doctors, chiropractor, and massage therapist to manage the issue so I can continue to ride safely. I focus on being thankful to keep me motivated and remember the times when I was not able to train or race. I think going through those hard times helps you appreciate the good [times] more.
CS: Do you think there is a certain personality that is drawn to compete in the Ironman and if so how does this fit you?
GS: I definitely see a lot of “Type A” personalities who compete in Ironman. They’re very driven, organized, efficient, disciplined, kind of serious, numbers-focused, goal-focused, and thrive on crazy challenges. All those qualities are very important when you’re trying to fit training in among bigger responsibilities like work, family, and social commitments. I would say that I’m pretty disciplined. I like to get things done, plan ahead, and be efficient. I’m definitely a list person because I forget things easily if I don’t write it down. I have gotten a lot better about balance though, making time for fun, and trying not to take things so seriously anymore. I’ve had the best races when I have no set goals other than to do my best, enjoy the whole experience, and just have fun with it.
CS: Thank you for your time today Gabby and we all wish you a great future with more accomplishments. (Your story would make you a great motivational speaker who could visit local schools or a future TED Talk.)
My last question is what does the future look like for you and what is your one major goal?
GS: It’s kind of hard for me to look too far ahead. I’m just very thankful for where I am right now and don’t take it for granted. I like to take things one day at a time since I don’t really know what the future will hold, but whatever it is I still try to do the best I can with each day I have. If I had to come up with one major goal, it would be to find my maximum potential in the sport. I want to see how far I can go in triathlon and running. I really hope to qualify for my official elite license in triathlon one day soon. I just have the one elite license for duathlon right now but I’m very close to getting the triathlon one. I would also love to see what I could do for a stand-alone marathon if I focused on it, without having to swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles before. It would be fun to see what I could do with my run if I gave it a little more attention and keep trying to break my personal records. I just want to keep improving, as an athlete and as a person. There is always room for growth. Thank you again for having me here this morning.
Categories: Athlete Profiles