Gabby Recinto, a two-sport athlete at Cherokee High School in New Jersey, was a shy child who held a lukewarm interest in martial arts at first.
Basketball and soccer took up most of her time. But martial arts flows through the bloodline of the Recinto family, making it difficult to not take up the combat sport.
Recinto’s dad, Mike, is a 4th-degree blackbelt in American Kenpo who owns and operates Amerikick Medford, a martial arts and fitness establishment in Medford, N.J., along with his wife, Kim, a Black Belt in Tang So Do.
They seemed to have influenced Gabby, as she started studying martial arts at five years old. In fact, Gabby and the second oldest child, Sofia, 13, have earned their black belts despite their busy teenage existence.
“Her (Gabby’s) journey to Black Belt was different than most,” Mike Recinto recalled. “Since she was heavily involved with soccer and basketball she had to fit it in. That meant loading up on classes during her downtime. She practically grew up at the studio. Since my wife and I were working, she came with us to work and played with the siblings of the other students.
“Gabby knew it would take her a long time to earn her belt but she didn’t let that stop her,” he continued. “In fact, Gabby didn’t earn her belt until December of her 8th-grade year. The nice part is that it’s the one thing we can all do as a family. She’s now teaching her younger sibling with her sister Sofia.”
While Gabby relishes in learning and teaching martial arts, playing basketball has won out over other sports. But make no mistake, school is job one at the Recinto household.
However, the five-foot-nine wing/post player does have aspirations to play high-level college basketball in the future.
“When I was younger, I was told that school came first,” the younger Recinto said. “I have very good grades (because of that). I am hoping to play D I (hoops) in college.”
The Recintos have established an unwritten pact with their daughter that has worked so far.
“We made a deal with her when she first started,” Mike Recinto explained. “We would let her participate in sports as long as she maintained good grades. The minute her grades slip, we would pull her. She’s been an honor student since 5th grade.”
Because of martial arts, the once bashful kid said she has been able to transfer those skills to the hardwood
“I was a shy kid, but it (martial arts) helped me become less shy,” said Gabby, who also played a season of volleyball at Cherokee High School. “Karate has given me more confidence and become a better leader (on the court).”
But that’s not the only benefits that martial arts have provided the 16-year-old. Last basketball season, Recinto partially tore her two ligaments in her right ankle in mid-January, forcing her to miss 13 games. She did manage to score 103 points, grab 10 rebounds, and dish out five assists in 16 contests.
Recinto recovered but reinjured her ankle twice; the first time in August, and the second time in October.
She said used a combination of physical therapy and martial arts to help her return to action, and stave off any other injuries while morphing into a better athlete.
“I feel like karate definitely did help me recover,” said Recinto, who hopes to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps as a nurse practitioner and embark on a career in the medical field someday. “Karate has helped my agility. Without karate, I probably would’ve gotten hurt more.”
With the start of the 2021 New Jersey high school hoops season nearing, Recinto said she is chomping at the bit to return to the court. After all, the Lady Chiefs finished with an overall 30-1 mark and made it to the NJSIAA Group Tournament, Group 4 finals before COVID-19 halted the 2019-20 campaign.
“I don’t know what I do without basketball,” said Recinto, who also plays AAU ball for Exodus NYC. “I’m so excited to (play again). Last year, we didn’t end on a loss, but I feel we could’ve gone far in the states. I’m just so happy to start playing again.”
Whether Recinto kicking for the stars or shooting for success, she will arrive at her chosen destination in due course, no doubt.
Watch Gabby Recinto’s highlights with Exodos NYC in video below.
— Jerry Del Priore
— Photos courtesy of Mike Recinto