Gabby Chico spends her days marching toward goals.
Just wait until you see her on Thanksgiving Day.
That’s getting a little bit ahead of the narrative, though, so we’ll march back around to that.
Gabby’s goals: The major ones overlap, but that’s okay, she said.
Because that’s how she planned it.
For one, she wants to be an emergency medical technician and is training for it at the Monongalia County Technical Education Center — on top of her studies at University High School.
A few mileposts back along that route, she also thought it would be rewarding to work as a firefighter.
So, she joined the Cheat Lake Volunteer Fire Department, where she keeps a full list of tasks and responsibilities on the front burner at the station.
Gabby is still too young to go on actual calls, but all that changes in December, when the UHS senior turns 18 and begins prepping for the exam that will certify her to do just that.
Next fall, she’ll also begin, in earnest, the pursuit of her ultimate career goal — becoming a flight nurse.
That happens either at WVU, Fairmont State University or Waynesburg University.
She’s been accepted into the nursing programs of all three and is currently vectoring in on where she wants to go.
Experience and tenacity, she said, will define the flight plan.
“I’ll be a better nurse, because I’ll know what it’s like to be an EMT and a volunteer firefighter,” she said.
“Just figure out what you want to do — then know that you’re gonna have to put in the work.”
If you turn on your TV this Thanksgiving morning, and you know where to look, you’ll see her marching in culmination of one of her more-immediate goals.
Gabby, who auditioned for the honor via YouTube, is one of just 185 musicians in high school marching bands across the country to be selected for a spot in the Macy’s Great American Band.
Macy’s, as in the iconic New York City department store.
This will be the 97th Thanksgiving for its namesake parade, which for many, signals the official start of Christmas across the country.
Gabby came up playing clarinet in the UHS Hawks band and is currently a member of its honor guard — the position she’ll anchor in the national assemblage.
The pageantry of the honor guard, with its precise marching and choreography, grabbed her muse and didn’t let go, she said.
Add in the athleticism and musicianship making up the actual wielding of the flag — you don’t dare miss a cue or let the fabric touch the pavement — and Gabby knew exactly what she was going to do on football Friday nights for the rest of high school.
It’s not as easy as it might look, she said, of all that wielding, angling and spinning.
“That pole is wa-a-ay taller than I am,” she said.
Balanced on its end, it stands at 6 feet — “And I’m definitely not that,” Gabby said.
Heartbeat of Herald Square
She is, however, definitely jazzed about being in the 2023 edition of the Macy’s Great American Band.
The band is under the direction of Richard Good, a nationally known music educator from Auburn University and the only leader it has known.
It has stepped off every Thanksgiving Day parade since 2006.
That’s 17 years of playing for the floats and the visits from Santa (and other celebrities).
Don’t forget the giant balloons.
Snoopy remains the all-time favorite of Gabby, who has watched the parade from her family’s living room since she was a little girl.
For the band that takes its star-turn one time a year, it’s also a shared history of music, marching and smiles, in a nearly three-mile route from Central Park West to 34th Street and Herald Square.
Herald Square is where Macy’s is, with Tom Turkey perched over the store’s entrance and the “Believe” lettering draped halfway down the building.
On a specially painted section of Big Apple asphalt in that location, this teeming, tuneful collection of young musicians from all across the U.S. will park its cadence.
Then, before a combined audience of millions, watching and listening in person and at home, it will lean into its traditional showstopper: “Strike Up the Band.”
From that first year in 1924, the Macy’s parade made it through the Great Depression, World War II and Sept. 11.
New York City, too, is full of teeming masses — those with direct family ties to trouble spots abroad, not to mention the twin towers that once punctuated lower Manhattan by virtue of their sheer architectural immensity, if nothing else.
Psychologists and other watchers of the human condition say this parade, in particular, doubles as a mass endorphin machine.
The Macy’s parade is where the multitudes can gather to cheer, to be charmed and to simply feel good, in uncertain times.
As an EMT-in-training, Gabby understands that times of crises can also bring out the humanitarian in our fellow humans.
Untold courage and compassion can, and will, shine through the fear and chaos of the moment, she said.
That’s why she’ll spend some time at Ground Zero, with a spiritual, professional sojourn to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Gabby wants to pay her respects to the first responders who rushed into the tumult, trying to save lives, as their world — and everyone else’s — grimly crashed down.
“They were so brave,” she said.