Gabby Birch, center, celebrates winning the women’s championship at the Decatur Highland Games in October. (Courtesy photo)
University of Saint Francis nursing student Gabby Birch keeps gaining strength—in the classroom, in her clinicals and on a broader athletic field—as she navigates her college career.
Birch’s first strong source of inspiration was her mother, Marykate, who died in 2021 after battling cancer.
“She was actually accepted into the Saint Francis nursing program in 2012, but had to withdraw because she was sick,” Birch said. “She was my inspiration to go into nursing, from spending time helping her in her journey.”
Birch originally pursued veterinary studies at Purdue University in West Lafayette. “Then I switched from animals to people,” she said, explaining her transfer to Saint Francis.
Although unable to pursue a nursing degree, Marykate Birch worked as a medical assistant; Gabby’s grandmother worked as a nurse. So medical care runs strong in her family, and Gabby felt drawn closer to the field.
“With my mom getting sick and COVID-19 happening, all these things were pushing me in this direction,” Birch said. “It was like I was being told, ‘Hey, you need to do this,’ and I finally listened.”
She will enter her senior year this coming spring and graduate with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in December 2024. “At first, I was upset about giving up my lifelong dream of being a veterinarian, but my dad (Matt) said, ‘You can always have a farm of your own,’ and I have had so many people say, ‘We can’t see you doing anything else but nursing.’”
Birch is also finding strong motivation in her limited free time.
A throwing specialist in track and field at Bellmont High School in Decatur, Birch competed two years at Saint Francis before her nursing schedule became too consuming. She recently drew on that background to improve her literal strength.
Gabby’s older brother Isaac has competed for several years in the Decatur Highland Games, winning the competition last year, and Gabby finally decided to join in. The Highland Games, a Scottish-inspired competition, features events such as weight for distance, weight for height, putting of the stone, hammer throw and bags and barrels.
Birch flourished in her first competition in October—winning the women’s competition and setting women’s records for the event in weight for distance, hammer throw and putting of the stone.
“The Highland Games gets bigger every year they do it,” Birch said. “I tried to train with my brother whenever I could; he owns a gym in Decatur and that’s a big help. As with any sport, you need to lift and throw and train so you don’t hurt yourself.
“I would like to go to other Highland Games, and I’ve been looking into the Strongman competition. That would require even more training.”
Birch plans to keep pushing forward—and gaining strength—in every aspect of her medical and athletic pursuits.