SMU’s Gabby Petrucelli ’16 Balances Grad School And Rowing

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hat’s the key to juggling the demands of graduate school and competitive rowing?
“I started drinking a lot of coffee, especially with early morning practices,” Gabrielle (Gabby) Petrucelli ’16 says. “Being able to balance both is a game in itself.”
Petrucelli, a four-year starter for the SMU women’s soccer team as an undergraduate, is working toward a master of science in accounting (MSA) at SMU’s Cox School of Business while testing the waters as a first-year member of the SMU rowing team.

Gabby Petrucelli ’16 played soccer for four years at SMU and is now a first-year member of the SMU rowing team and a graduate student in the Cox School of Business.

She and her teammates are at the boathouse on White Rock Lake by 5:30 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. on Saturdays. They start with a warm-up run before heading inside to practice on rowing machines. Before 7 a.m., they hit the water in racing shells, those long, narrow boats used in competitive rowing. For the next two hours, they glide back and forth across the lake as head coach Doug Wright and assistant coaches Jessie Hooper ’03 and Paige Love take note of performance strengths and weaknesses, offer suggestions, track times and check in with rowers to make sure they’re feeling 100 percent. It takes tremendous strength and stamina to make the sport look so graceful and effortless.
SMU rowing wrapped up its fall schedule on November 5 with several top-three finishes at the Tulsa Fall Invitational. In its season opener on March 11, the Mustangs host Creighton at White Rock Lake.
The team also finished the fall semester as one of nine SMU sports programs to set new academic records.
While the rigors of graduate school would be enough of a workout for most students, Petrucelli, a lifelong athlete, couldn’t pass up the chance to learn a new sport. Besides soccer, she played tennis in high school but had never tried rowing. The transition has been smooth, but she has had to make a few adjustments.
“In rowing you’re competing for a seat in the boat against your teammates, of course, but soccer is more of a contact sport and the competition is more physical,” she says. “I was used to the group dynamic of soccer practice, and I’ve had to get into the mindset of the individual challenge of the rowing workouts.”
She’s used to challenges. As an undergraduate, she played the trickiest soccer position – coach’s daughter. Her father is SMU women’s soccer head coach Chris Petrucelli. During her four years of eligibility, she and her father adhered to a strict rule: When at practice or during a game, they were “coach” and “player,” not “father” and “daughter.”
“To both my dad and me, it was about being members of a team,” says the former soccer mid-fielder. “I felt like I was treated the same by him and my teammates, which I’m grateful for.”
She says the discipline and time-management skills she developed as an undergraduate student-athlete serve her well in graduate school.
“Being an athlete teaches you to work hard and persevere. You learn that you have to keep going, whether you lose a game or have to stay up late to figure out an assignment you thought you’d never understand,” she says. “I have developed the mindset of ‘you can do this,’ no matter what, and that has helped me academically.”
The spring will be a whirlwind, as she finishes her master’s program, competes with the rowing team and prepares to sit for the CPA exam, beginning in May. All this will lead up to the launch of her professional career, when she joins the tax department of PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) in July.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to compete in two sports at the collegiate level while receiving a great education at SMU,” Petrucelli says. “I have learned a lot about competiveness, perseverance and teamwork that will be valuable in my career going forward.”
– Patricia Ward