Lou Rabito: Determination is mainstay of Wood goalkeeper Gioffre

Gab Gioffre played junior varsity field hockey as a freshman, earning honors as rookie of the year. She has also competed as a swimmer and a diver.
Gab Gioffre played junior varsity field hockey as a freshman, earning honors as rookie of the year. She has also competed as a swimmer and a diver.

The senior, born without a left hand, doesn't let anything stop her.

Posted: October 24, 2010

Gab Gioffre always has been different - she was born without a left hand - but she says the distinction didn't really hit her until she got to high school.

"Maybe it was just my insecurities, but I thought a lot of people didn't talk to me - not because they didn't want to, just because they didn't know what to say," the Archbishop Wood senior said.

Maybe, she wondered, they thought she had had the arm amputated and was sensitive about it. That didn't help her insecurity about the stump just below her left elbow.

"I'd want to hide it, but you can't hide it, you know," she said.

She doesn't hide it.

She doesn't hide behind it, either.

Gioffre has played two seasons of field hockey, competed in swimming and diving, and worked as a waitress and a lifeguard since she started high school. In eighth grade, she played basketball.

This fall, she is the Vikings' starting goalkeeper in field hockey.

"She acts like there's no problem," Wood field hockey coach Deb Andress said. "That's what I love about it."

Gioffre estimates that she started in athletics when she was 8, swimming and diving. She played field hockey as a freshman on the Wood junior varsity, earning rookie-of-the-year honors. She didn't play the last two years, but continued to swim and dive.

Doctors weren't sure what caused her to be born without a left hand, said her mother, Linda, but they suspected amniotic bands forming during the pregnancy.

Growing up, Gioffre got creative to accomplish things. To jump rope, she wrapped the rope around her right arm. For handstands in diving, she relied more on her right arm.

"Things are more difficult sometimes for me, but I don't think that way," said Gioffre, 17, who lives in Huntingdon Valley. "I was born without a left hand, so I had to learn how to do things without a left hand. So I'm just kind of learning, just like everyone else is learning. I just might have to do it a different way."

She doesn't wear any special equipment on the field. She carries her stick in her right hand. She places a mitt, which has slots for fingers near the tip, over her left arm and tightens the strap where the arm inserts.

Because she has no fingers to put in the slots, the mitt isn't as secure on her arm as it is for other goalies. Occasionally, a player inadvertently knocks the mitt off or steps on it, dislodging it.

With her left arm shorter than her right, she obviously has less reach on shots to the left of the net.

"Sometimes when a goal goes in on my left side," Gioffre said, "I'll kind of think, oh man, only if I had a little longer of an arm. Only. But then you can't blame yourself for that because you did your best."

Knowing that she can't extend as far to the left, teams have aimed shots there, Andress said, but Gioffre, who is 5-foot-3, has compensated by playing more to her left. The coach also said that Gioffre has learned to anticipate shots better and has gotten quicker on her feet.

The Vikings, having lost more than a half-dozen seniors from last year's team, started slowly this season. But they overcame a 1-5 start and are 4-7 overall and 4-6 in the Catholic League.

They will face Conwell-Egan in a tiebreaker game Monday to determine the sixth seed in the league playoffs.

Through the ups and downs, Gioffre has remained undeterred.

"If I were to give advice to people, I would say to never, ever say you can't do something . . ." she said. "You can do anything you put your mind to, really. Don't let anything about you physically stop you from doing something.

"I try to do really great things. And I've gotten good things out of it. I've gotten rookie of the year. I've gotten sportsmanship awards. I'm a waitress at Luther Park, at a retirement home [in Hatboro]. I'm a lifeguard. I swam. I dive."

Andress, a longtime coach who has faced obstacles herself, having survived a brain tumor, thinks Gioffre can play college field hockey.

Andress used to coach the sport at Penn State-Abington and recently was named lacrosse coach there. She thinks Gioffre would fit in with some NCAA Division III programs. Gioffre isn't so sure.

Gioffre also is unsure of her college destination, with East Stroudsburg, Temple, and Bucks County Community College as possibilities.

She seems sure, though, of her course of study and choice of career.

"I want to go in for recreational therapy for college, and I want to work with elderly," she said. "I feel like everyone deserves to smile. And if someone smiles because of me, I think that just makes my day. Because if someone makes me smile, it's just the greatest feeling."

Contact staff writer Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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