After years and years in the pool, Narragansett’s Gabrielle Risica finished out her swimming career at Sarah Lawrence College this past season. Now on to a new chapter of life as she begins a Ph.D. program in chemistry at Texas A&M University, her student-athlete experience still isn’t quite over.
Soon after graduation, Risica was selected as a nominee for the NCAA’s Woman of the Year award, which honors student-athletes who have excelled in academics, athletics, service and leadership.
“We couldn’t be more proud to nominate Gabby for this award,” Sarah Lawrence Director of Athletics Kristin Maile said in a press release. “Her commitment to swimming, science, and the community make her the perfect representative for Sarah Lawrence College.”
Maile approached Risica about the possibility of a nomination when her diploma in chemistry and health sciences was barely a week old.
“The week after I graduated, I got an email from the athletic director at my school,” Risica said. “She had said, ‘We’re considering nominating you but it would require you to write this personal statement. What do you think?’ That had also been forwarded to my swim coach and he responded, ‘Gabby, you should do this.’”
After doing some research into what the award entailed, Risica agreed and submitted the personal statement and some other paperwork. The school heard back from the NCAA a few weeks ago, which made the nomination official.
“It was a little bit unexpected,” Risica said. “I had also this year won the Scholar Athlete award that our school gives out. It was nice to hear from them again to, I guess, reinforce the fact that they thought my athletics and academics were important enough and that I had done a good enough job that they wanted to recognize it further.”
Risica is part of a large pool of honorees, with a record 543 nominated by member schools across all three divisions, the most in the history of the Woman of the Year program. Risica is one of 197 nominees selected from roughly 450 Division III schools. The nominees included 229 student-athletes from Division I and 117 from Division II.
Conferences will choose representatives from among their schools’ nominees, and the NCAA will narrow the field further until nine finalists are chosen.
Wherever the process takes Risica, she’s happy to be on the path.
“I was a little surprised, but it was exciting knowing I had done something good,” she said.
Risica swam and ran track at Narragansett High School, and also swam at the South County YMCA. When she was looking at colleges, swimming remained a priority.
“I swam all through high school, middle school, elementary school for years and years and years. It seemed silly to suddenly take that out of my schedule,” she said. “I started reaching out to schools that had swim programs that were D-III, because I really wanted to be a student more than anything else, and then have the opportunity to swim on top of that.”
Sarah Lawrence’s swim program fit the bill, and its unique academic approach – where course work is independently driven – was also appealing. At the time, Risica had an eye on medical school, and the school’s 100 percent acceptance rate for graduates was a major draw.
Once on campus, Risica excelled in the pool and the classroom. She was a consistent contributor in Skyline Conference competition, with individual success and a big impact on the Gryphons’ relay teams. She placed as a runner-up in three-straight Skyline Championships and garnered individual recognition as Skyline Swimmer of the Week and Metropolitan Conference All-Academic. She was a Skyline Academic Honor Roll selection, as well, and earned the school’s Alice Stone Ilchman Scholar-Athlete of the Year award this past spring.
In the community, Risica participated in the health and science after-school program at San Andreas Episcopal Church, where she tutored children in math, reading and writing.
A close group of friends from the swim team helped define her well-balanced college experience.
“We would spend a lot of time studying together, writing our papers together and motivating each other to do well both in our classes and in the pool,” Risica said.
With that mission clearly accomplished, Risica is already in College Station, Texas, doing research before the Ph.D. program begins in August. She hopes to pursue a career in industry, with a focus on innovation and would also like to teach.