Skip To Main Content

Catching Up With Gia Doonan ’13

Catching Up With Gia Doonan ’13

By Noel Pardo, Director of Alumni Relations

Gia Doonan

Gia Doonan, class of 2013, was last seen in Tabor Today’s Olympic issue, ramping up for the 2021 Olympic games in Japan as a member of the US Women’s rowing eight. Two weeks after the Olympics, I chatted with her at Tabor’s track between running sprints; she was preparing for the games in Paris 2024. Fast forward to today, and Gia is now one of the assistant coaches at the University of Texas in Austin, her alma mater.
When I met Gia at the track, she was wearing her US national team unisuit, and when I recently visited Austin with the rowing team over spring break, she spoke to current Tabor students about what it took to represent the US. At that time, she wore her Olympic shirt and a UT hat. Coaching had clearly taken hold.
During Gia’s long journey to being selected to the Olympic women’s eight, she endured countless hours of intense workouts day after day, month after month. As she stated, "if you really want something, and I mean really want it, you have to try hard, care and never give up. There will be ups and downs, but not letting the downs define you and stay relentlessly hopeful, you can go very far!"

Gia willed herself to endure workouts that most mortals would give up on after the first half hour. Thousands of hours in the tanks, on the water, and in the weight room eventually took their toll on her body, and she herniated multiple disks that never fully healed. Then, just five weeks before Olympic selection, she herniated another disk. Somehow, she still successfully willed her way to the Tokyo Games. While the fourth-place finish was not the desired outcome, she was gracious in describing her hosts as wonderful and hospitable people. After taking two weeks off after the Olympics, she began to train despite persistent pain from the spinal injuries that never fully healed.

In an attempt to make her back whole again, Gia embarked on endless visits to doctors and specialists. While suggestions were plenty, one option stood out – surgery – that was not guaranteed to work. The other opinion was to simply retire from rowing and put eight long years of training and a lifetime dream behind her. If she continued to train at an elite level, she might permanently damage her spine and be unable to walk for the rest of her life. 

Woman wearing orange University of Texas jacket and hat rowing

Gia decided to leave the national team and seek a new path. Several months after competing in Tokyo, she returned to Austin to volunteer as a coach with the women’s rowing team. The Longhorn women would go on to win their second consecutive NCAA team national championship with the first boat winning the Grand Finals. At season’s end, Gia was hired as a full-time assistant coach at her alma mater. She took charge of 70 walk-ons and junior varsity rowers. Since the first day of the 2022-23 season, she has strived to build a culture of support and collaboration between all members of the team. Her coaching philosophy paid off earlier this season when she witnessed first and second boat rowers helping lower boat rowers during practice.

"We talk about the formula for success to be fairly simple: 'Attitude plus effort equals success.' Easy to say, very hard to do day after day. But it really is that simple," said Gia. Gia spends 50 to 60 hours a week supporting and pushing her charges to give their optimal performances; she provides an Olympian’s spirit and compassion to each of her athletes.

We wish her well during her inaugural coaching season and as the Longhorn faithful chant: Hook ’em Horns!