Introducing Swaymous, a series about the local people who make Moore County towns unique. Know someone who should be Swaymous? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ve probably seen Gabby Studenmund strolling through downtown Southern Pines, or sipping a latte in Swank while chatting up fellow regulars. And while this small town draws in people from across the globe, there’s more to the story of how this New York City girl came to be a neighborhood staple of the Stars Hollow of the South.
Let’s Rewind to 2002.
Fresh off of the endorphin high of completing the Philadelphia Marathon, Gabby was living an early-2000s romcom life in New York City. She was working as the fitness editor of Self Magazine and training to conquer yet another fitness milestone — the Ironman Half-Triathlon.
On May 19, 2002, Gabby’s life changed forever. Medical professionals believe that she picked up speed riding downhill on her bike, veered into a parking lot and struck an object, possibly a concrete planter. But truthfully, no one knows exactly what happened. What is known is that Gabby crashed her bicycle in an accident that shattered her elbow and dented her helmet. She suffered a traumatic brain injury on impact — putting her in a coma for 10 days. She doesn’t remember the immediate rehab or recovery. Gabby says her brain shook inside her skull — leaving her with blurred memories and gratitude for the helmet that saved her life.
“I am just so glad I was wearing a helmet,” says Gabby. “If I wasn’t wearing a helmet, who knows … I probably wouldn’t be alive.”
A Long Recovery
For two years, Gabby underwent rehab in New York, North Carolina and Philadelphia. Gabby’s parents were living near Southern Pines, and her mother would drive her for daily visits to WakeMed in Raleigh. Gabby was in a wheelchair for a bit as she relearned to balance and walk, and vaguely remembers walking Reservoir Park with her mother as she tried to relearn her balance. She definitely remembers falling down a few times and taking her mother with her. It was around that time she would head to the beach with her father and walk, since she wasn’t afraid to fall on the sand.
Gabby had tried to return to NYC, but things had changed. She was a different person. Her longterm relationship had begun to unravel. She would fall a lot as she took the bus daily to her continued rehab programs at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation — experiences she describes as “scary, and a nightmare.”
Gabby wanted her own life, and eventually made the decision in 2004 to permanently relocate to North Carolina.
A New Life
Gabby’s father knew someone who had an apartment for rent in downtown Southern Pines, and convinced his daughter to live where she would be able to walk to shops and restaurants. Here, this ex-Manhattanite found her new stride.
Ever since, Gabby has been busy building a life for herself in Southern Pines. She’s moved a few times, started online dating, volunteered in local organizations, and become such a community staple that she has her own crepe at Betsy’s Crepes: Le Sweet Gabby.
“Everyone knows me and takes care of me,” Gabby says.
Gabby has sights on writing a book in the future to help fellow TBI patients navigate the difficult journey of recovery. She credits her parents for her positive outlook, saying they didn’t let her feel sorry for herself. They helped her deal with her situation at hand.
“I’m no longer working — no NYC boyfriend, reservations at elite Manhattan restaurants, or modeling a size 2. I am a happy southern girl.”