The Art of
Words and Photos by Lucie Beatrix
As she runs across the wooden planks on Coney Island’s boardwalk, every stride feels like an eternity. It’s the home stretch of the Brooklyn Half, but through thick and heavy fog, the finish line still seems like a mirage. Gabrielle Yatauro, 26, begins to see the faint outline of the clock and knows now is the time to kick.
If Gabrielle can increase her pace slightly beyond the consistent 5:48 splits for the first 12 miles, she will beat her recent PR achieved just two months prior, by nearly two minutes. With everything she has, she propels forward. The red LED lights read 1:15:59 as she lunges across the finish line. Without knowing the official results, and only the feeling of giving it her all, Gabrielle knows she has had a breakthrough.
In high school in Southern California, Gabrielle and her twin sister Alexa were inseparable. The two made the school’s tennis team and tennis provided a rewarding activity for them to share. Then, on a whim, the two of them decided to join track. “We swore against running… We hated it up until that point.”
They surprised themselves by having fun. Suddenly, the coach saw some potential in the pair and convinced them to double up on sports the following year. Gabrielle and Alexa become two-sport athletes the fall of their sophomore year with tennis and cross country. “That was the first time I ever felt like I was good at running,” Gabrielle explains, “I think tennis helped.” One moment they were swinging a racket and the next they were striding down lane one. Gabrielle thrived this way, in motion. Ricocheting between two sports in a season was a lot to manage, but it enforced a work ethic that she took with her into adulthood. With a full schedule of studying, practicing, and competing, she adopted a hyper focus on quality training.
As she trained for track in high school, her coach kept Gabrielle running on low mileage. Low volume training paid off when Gabrielle went on to break five minutes in the mile, running a 4:59. By the end of her high school career, she decided to shift the focus entirely away from tennis to pursue running at Belmont University.
Despite balancing two sports in one season during high school, Gabrielle struggled to adjust to the work required of a collegiate athlete. An elixir of high mileage, intensity at practice, and stress of competition dulled the spark she was just discovering for the sport. Every time she showed up to practice, her body was breaking down. It was undeniable that her heart was no longer in it. Ultimately, she suffered a stress fracture in her hip and it wasn’t long before running came to a standstill. In response, Gabrielle shifted her focus away from sports and directed that energy towards her education. She put all of her efforts into schooling required to pursue the profession of helping others, to become a medical social worker.
Gabrielle’s career became the greatest priority in her life. She had the opportunity to attend one of the top ranked graduate schools in her field of social work, Columbia University, and pursue her dream of working in a hospital in New York. “I fell in love with social work at Belmont, and then chose the school that would follow that.” Columbia’s location in New York was a plus given she had always wanted to live in a big city.
Upon moving to the bustling city, she fully committed to her master’s program to become the best medical social worker she can be and that meant she won’t dilute her energy. Between losing the spark she once had for running and struggling with injury, she decided to take an entire year off of the sport. With running shoes sat idle, she dove into her studies – learning the demanding, rigorous, and grueling skills required to be a hospital social worker.
Years later, Gabrielle’s fast paced life in the city is thousands of miles away from her high school days as an athlete. Once she obtained her degree, she began work at NYU Langone Hospital in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Closing out long days in her scrubs, Gabrielle’s running shoes begin to beckon her.
Gabrielle slowly adopts a ritual of shaking off the days by logging miles. As the sun slips behind the skyscrapers, she’s there in sync with her breath and strides, tallying distance. She keeps a record of these runs on a note app in her phone (since Strava isn’t yet part of her vocabulary). Running comes as a sweet relief every time she gets outside, and a familiar spark flickers again. She notices the tiny moments of calm in contrast to her busy days. With sleeping habits like an elite runner, whether or not she’s racing, she tucks herself into bed at 10 p.m. before another long day in the hospital. Running has started to feel like part of her life again.
In 2019, her twin sister convinces Gabrielle to do a training run with her, which is actually the Seawheeze Lululemon Half Marathon in Vancouver, Canada. The duo run the race for fun, and Gabrielle completes the event in a modest 1:31:37. There, at the finish line, Gabrielle meets some other fellow New Yorker runners. They tell her about Brooklyn Track Club and invite her to run with them back home.
Over the next few months, Gabrielle joins long runs with the team. She participates in everything that comes along with running too: the community of friends running the streets on quiet weekend mornings has become therapy to her. The best part, she says, is lounging around afterwards at a local bar or eating snacks and sipping beers with pals.
But she’s not just there for the social aspect, eventually Gabrielle felt compelled to complete a track workout for the first time since college. At that very first workout with Brooklyn Track Club, Gabrielle arrives to McCarren Park in Williamsburg with a hopeful sense of curiosity. She learns the workout is 20x200m. While it seems like a pretty intense way to break the seal with speed, she remains open to the experience.
To her surprise, as each rep progresses, the track feels vastly different from her past experiences in her early 20s. She finds liberation in the feeling of going fast: no pressure, no expectations, or high stakes. Sandwiched by dozens of other athletes, coming from all walks of life on a busy night in Brooklyn, leaves her buzzing. She feels like she has found an old friend, and she rejoices in this moment on the track.
Spring 2022. Gabrielle has wired herself to do hard things. Her alarm clock goes off at 6 a.m. and without even thinking about it, she gets up and into scrubs. Knowing she has an intense shift ahead, she buffers the intensity with an upbeat song while she makes her morning coffee. At the hospital, she will face dozens of patients of all ages and demographics, and make life-altering decisions, such as where they will go after their hospital stay and what steps need to happen to help facilitate that.
“I see people at their worst: coming out of surgery or coming out from the emergency room,” Gabrielle says. She’s seen victims of sex trafficking, undocumented patients, or all kinds of people in economic hardship and has to determine how they are able to safely get to their next point of care. “No one is coming into the hospital in a good state – I’m going in there trying my best to understand when they go home and who is going to be there to care for them.” It’s not easy work, but she has built up an inner strength for it. This cerebral stamina transfers into her running practice and will prove essential come race day.
Earlier this May, Gabrielle assumed her position at the starting line of the RBC Brooklyn Half. As the race begins at the early hour of 7 AM, the rolling hills of Prospect Park beneath her do not distract from the deep sense of joy within her that she holds onto with everything she has. It’s hard to find a moment throughout the race where she isn’t smiling from ear to ear. It is being present in this moment, beside friends she has come to consider family, that Gabrielle feels as though she is exactly where she wants to be.
In just under 76 minutes, she has done what she set out to do, but the truth is that this breakthrough isn’t about time at all. Gabrielle’s efforts on the track in the months leading up to running 1:15:59 were nothing extraordinary. In fact, her shiny new half marathon PR was reflective of her consistent and gradual progress over time, and above all, her positive mindset. Despite hitting a running rut in college, her reset and recalibration after graduation set a foundation for the way she returned to the sport. Through community and camaraderie, rather than any incredible workout, she was able to race fearlessly.
Today, she’s feeling more grounded and confident. When asked what’s next, she says, “People ask me, ‘How are you doing so well?’ There’s not a secret word or formula to it – it’s a feeling – I go into a race and I feel safe, I feel supported, and I feel excited. That’s the trifecta, the secret. It’s not about the training, it’s the feeling going into the race. The support of New York City is unmatched. I think if I did this anywhere else I would not do as well.”
“If only more runners were to adopt this sense of freedom and community, what kinds of possibilities and potential could be unlocked,” she says. Gabrielle has shown that it’s not about miles, splits, or exact workouts, but that greatness is built on positivity, community and consistency.