Born to Be a Swimmer, Cabaron Cared Most About Her Southern Regional Teammates
Gabrielle Cabaron is well aware that her life could have been so much different.
“Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m spoiled,” said the 17-year-old Southern Regional High School senior and star swimmer. “I’m very fortunate to have the life I have.”
Indeed, she is. When she was born at Memorial Hospital of Burlington County in Mount Holly on June 8, 1999, she could have become a statistic – another baby given up for adoption but never adopted. However, Phillip and Mary Cabaron were next on a waiting list with Golden Cradle Adoption Services, and the agency immediately contacted them.
“June 10 is ‘Gotcha Day’ in our house,” said Cabaron, a Beach Haven Terrace resident. “When my parents got the call, my mom didn’t even have a crib yet. She picked one up on the way to get me.”
After “Gotcha Day,” life was great for a growing Cabaron. Of course, such is life for many who live on Long Beach Island. Still, with all the water surrounding it, the possibility of the young girl drowning was a real one, so Mary Cabaron took precautions.
“My mom was always afraid I’d fall in the bay or the ocean would take me out, so she’d put a life jacket on me,” Gabby said. “I remember being really young and wearing this bright-yellow life jacket whenever I was in the ocean. The waves would knock me down, but I’d bounce right up and get right back into the water.”
By the age of 3, Cabaron was taking swimming lessons at St. Francis Community Center. Sometime soon after her sixth or seventh birthday – it’s all a blur to her these days – she took up competitive swimming at Haven Beach Club and began taking advanced stroke lessons with coach Linda Behr, perhaps the most popular local instructor, at what once was The Ocean Club.
Southern Regional head coach Bill Entrikin, an assistant to Kate Baker then, said he had first seen Cabaron compete at Haven Beach Club during a summer meet and couldn’t wait to see what the future held for the up-and-coming swimmer.
“When she was 8 or 9 years old, it was pretty obvious how special she was,” he said. “In the summer around here, all the swimming is co-ed, so she was swimming against boys and beating many of them, and some who were older than her. Kate and I couldn’t wait for her to get to Southern.”
Of course, despite competing in a bunch of other sports just to have something else athletic to do – field hockey in sixth grade, track and field in seventh, lacrosse in eighth, and even a little tennis during the fall of her freshman year – swimming was her first love, and she eventually made it to Southern’s swim team.
Later in that first season, on March 2, 2014, Cabaron was part of a 200-yard freestyle relay that broke the school record (1:42.05). After Ali Phillips, Kade Hoolahan and Bethany Hartney completed their legs, Cabaron clocked a time of 24.63 seconds, an incredible 50-yard freestyle swim for a freshman.
“When I first joined the team, the goal was to get as many records as I could,” she said. “But I never really thought I’d be able to do it. I didn’t want to build myself up for disappointment.”
Forget disappointment, though. What Cabaron ended up doing during the next three years is simply stunning. After setting the 200-yard freestyle record (2:01.48) on Jan. 18, 2015, she set the records for the 50 free (:24.53) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:07.15), and was part of the record-breaking 200-yard medley relay (1:56.24) with Caitlin Behr, Phillips and Hartney, in a meet less than two weeks later.
As a junior, Cabaron set the 200-yard freestyle mark (2:01.48) on Feb. 9, 2016, leaving just four records on the board that she hadn’t snapped heading into her senior season. But on Jan. 10 she broke the 500-yard free record (5:20.89), then four days later broke the minute mark (:59.96) to set the 100-yard butterfly record.
On Feb. 3, prior to winning Southern’s first-ever Shore Conference title in the 100 breaststroke, Cabaron swam the 100-yard backstroke and set that record as well (1:02.81), then anchored the team of Laura Patterson, Olivia Davis and Abigael Coughlin as they broke the 400-yard freestyle relay record (3:52.53).
In the Rams’ final meet of the season – an NJSIAA South Jersey Public A semifinals loss to Cherry Hill East on Feb. 13 – she broke her own record in the 100-yard freestyle (:55.47). And if all that weren’t enough, on Jan. 27 Cabaron took over as Southern’s career-points leader, eclipsing former standout Julie Tate’s 787.25 points.
“Gabby helped take our program to the next level,” said long-time friend and teammate Annie Larkin. “There had never been a swimmer like her on the team, and she always helped us with new drills and kept motivating us to do better. She pushed the rest of us to be our best.
“She was the best swimmer around, but she didn’t act like it. Whenever somebody would ask her how she did – even if she broke a record the day before – she’d just say, ‘Good,’ and then talk about the team. Some people in our school didn’t even know she swam because she didn’t talk about herself.”
Patterson – who may have experienced the most traumatic thing Cabaron had ever said to anybody when she, as a kindergartner at the Ethel A. Jacobsen School, boasted to Laura, “Hey, I’m adopted,” prompting Laura to burst into tears for some reason – described her long-time friend as “kind-hearted and down to earth.”
“Gabby’s an amazing friend and teammate,” said Patterson, who last month sat alongside Cabaron as they signed National Letters of Intent to swim at Division-I Monmouth University next winter. “She’s always supportive. She’s always cheering you on in everything you do. She’s very humble. She doesn’t walk around as if she’s the best, but she’s always giving her best. And just as much as we want to see her excel, she was the same way for all of us on the team.
“She’s just a great person and teammate.”
And being the consummate teammate she is, Cabaron’s “highlight moment” wasn’t when she broke any of the individual records she now holds. Instead, it occurred when she was attempting to qualify for the finals in the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on March 4.
“The best moment of my career was seeing my whole team cheering for me at the state championships,” said Cabaron, who in just over five months will begin her career at Monmouth, where she will major in finance as she looks toward a possible future on Wall Street. “For me, it was always about the team. As far as I was concerned, I had 32 girls always next to me, not behind me. So it was special having them there with me. It was the perfect way to end my high school career.”