September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

>Gabrielle Reece


GROWING UP ONE OF THE TALLEST girls on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands wasn’t exactly a pleasant distinction for Gabrielle Reece, the model, beach volleyball star and coauthor (with journalist Karen Karbo) of a new memoir, Big Girl in the Middle (Crown, $24). “Look, I was 6’3″ when I was 15 years old,” she says, after signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica, Calif. “You wouldn’t believe people’s reactions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say with near-horror, ‘Can you believe how tall that girl is!’ ”

Many of the men in the bookstore didn’t seem to mind looking up to Reece, judging by their dreamy expressions as they asked her to sign their books “for my sister,” or “my friend who lives in Michigan” or even “my girlfriend.” “I can’t believe what a talented athlete she is,” gushed Stan Kabala, a 26-year-old Orange County accountant, handing over his copy.

The book chronicles Reece’s life from her rootless early childhood through the 1996 pro volleyball tour. Still, she insists it’s not really an autobiography. “I’m 27 years old. I don’t want to write the story of my life until I’m 65 or 70.” Ask for the secret of her poise, however, and Reece doesn’t hesitate. “My mom is 6’2″, but she never had a problem with it,” she says. “Although she was always on me about standing up straight.”

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