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Gabby Thomas is A Goal Digger

Balancing & mastering the track, academia, mental & physical heath

Article by Jennifer Birn

Photography by Jenna McElroy

Originally published in Austin Lifestyle

If one were to prompt AI software to print the perfect person, Gabby Thomas may be what pops out. An elite athlete, Gabby took home a bronze medal at her first major track meet during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. A brilliant scholar, Gabby received her bachelor's degree in Neurobiology from Harvard and a Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas.

She wants to use her degrees to help people access healthcare. She also takes care to look after her own mental health, prioritizing sleep, nurturing friendships and embracing the mental health benefits that come with being mom to her dog Rico. And to state the obvious - she’s supermodel beautiful.

We spent an afternoon with Gabby at the Four Seasons Austin where she dove into the impetus behind her degrees, training for the Paris Olympics, some of her favorite things in and about Austin and more.

 

What made you interested in those fields of study? What’s the dream post-running.

I went into neurobiology because I knew I wanted to do that since I was a junior in high school.

Initially, I wanted to do research on autism and figure out how I could serve that community when I graduated. I ended up doing some research at Harvard but in addition to my neuro courses, I also took some sociology courses and started to learn a bit about disparities and health outcomes in the country. That’s when I realized that I wanted to shift my focus more towards public health. I’m still interested in the neurobiology field, and I do think it’s helpful to have that strong science background, but tackle it from a different angle. I’ve now decided I want to go into hospital administration, and still be in the healthcare field and a healthcare setting, but work on it in a way where I can help people who need it the most, people who are under-resourced, or people who don’t have health insurance, or people who aren’t aware or educated on the healthcare system. When I graduated from Harvard it was with my major in Neurobio and my minor in Global Health and Health Policy. Then I applied for my masters at UT and I knew I wanted to focus on health disparities, but I found myself migrating towards epidemiology. It’s very data-focused and felt like a good fit for me. I’m so passionate about it and I feel like I’ve put myself in the position where I can make a difference.

Since graduating, since I’m still running, I want to stay in the field so I’ve been working at the healthcare clinic. I started volunteering there when I moved to Austin because I wanted to stay involved and be in the field and understand what was happening in real time. After graduating I started working there and now I have a caseload of patients and we follow up with them and make sure they’re getting access to healthcare, medication, education, nutritionists, whatever they need. These are patients who don’t have health insurance and mostly black and brown people from low-income communities. It’s really rewarding and I like doing it. I’ll be running for the foreseeable future, probably the next ten years, but for now I’m really happy doing that.

How many hours/week do you dedicate to training?

When we’re out of season I’m probably dedicating about 20 hours a week towards running, which isn’t too bad. When we start competing and traveling on top of training it becomes your entire life pretty much. It varies on the time of season and on what I’m trying to get out of the sport, if I’m in a place that I want to be competing every week, if I want to travel abroad and run some Diamond League races and tune up, or if I want to take time to be at home and recover and have some relaxation after a hard training week.

What are your current running goals? The Paris Olympics?

Oh my gosh, yeah. I feel like for the Paris Olympics, a gold medal. I have really grown into a mature athlete these last couple of years. I had my breakout year at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and that was my first time making the US Team. It happened to be on the biggest stage and I felt so new and so young and I wasn’t super familiar with the sport of track and field, coming from Harvard and not being around other pro athletes, so everything came at me really quickly. But, I got a bronze medal. The next year I went through an injury, which was really heartbreaking, but unfortunately, it’s part of the sport and it’s about how you bounce back from that. This last season I got a silver medal at the World Championships and it was my first time competing on a world stage with everyone there and all the people and actually experiencing it the way you’re supposed to experience it and I feel like I grew a lot and gained a lot of experience this past season. So, I feel really strong going into the Olympics. I feel like I know what I’m capable of and I know how to compete, how to bring my best self and how to prepare for it. I’m looking forward to applying it to next year. I think I’ll be in really good shape.

You tore your hamstring, what was coming back from that like?

Tearing my hamstring was really hard and heartbreaking, mainly because it happened at such an untimely time for me. I was pushing my body past its limits, past where I ever had before and I was running really fast in preparation for trials. I just pushed it a little too far and my hamstring snapped It was a really hard thing to mentally come to terms with, especially for someone like me who is constantly trying to work my way towards being a success, work towards greatness. You can’t work your way out of an injury. I just had to be very patient with it and I had to miss out on the World Championships and watch everyone else run and run better. But, I came back at the end of the season and I ended my season pretty well. I had to go back to the drawing board during the off-season and come back the next year and just keep that positive mentality. I trained throughout the whole year knowing that I didn’t medal the previous year.

So much goes into competing at such an elite level, how do you maintain that positivity and your mental health?

A lot goes into it and it’s every single day, it’s not just a month of the year, it’s constant in everything you’re doing, so mental health is really important because it keeps you motivated and on track. For me, I really, really like meditation. I think it’s huge and I suggest it to everyone who asks me about what I do and how I prepare. I do it every morning and I incorporate it into my competition warm-up.


Do you use a guided meditation app?
I personally don’t use an app, I just focus on breathing exercises and visualization, but it’s the same idea. On top of meditation, I think it’s really important to spend time with friends. I like to be outside and doing things. It can be really easy to get wrapped up in track & field and stay inside your house like a hermit and just be stressed out, but I do a good job of making an effort to be around people who take my mind off work, make me happy and have a positive energy around them. I play with my dog, of course. I love him. Coming home to him every day just lightens my mood instantly. Other recovery things that keep me feeling good are eating well, and maintaining a good sleep schedule, which I think is the biggest thing.

What’s your morning routine?
My morning routine is essentially waking up, doing breathing exercises and mediation and drinking a lot of water. I probably drink a quarter of a gallon just in the morning. Then I walk Rico and get coffee, because I love coffee, it’s one of the little things that I look forward to every day. Those small wins make up a good day.

What’s your regular workout routine?

We generally warm-up for 45 minutes to an hour.

That’s most people’s entire workout.

Literally, when I first got there that’s what I thought, but it prevents injuries. Our training in the fall is longer running, so we might do a mile, just basically running forever. When we get into the season it’s more sprinting. Then we’ll do an ab circuit, maybe a plyometrics circuit, cool down and after that recovery stuff like cold plunge, sauna and hyperbaric chamber.

Hyperbaric chambers seem to be gaining popularity.
I love the hyperbaric chamber, I bought one for my apartment. You enclose yourself in it and it’s pure oxygen getting into your bloodstream at a higher pressure, so it helps you recover a lot faster. I love it, I do an hour a day. It’s relaxing.

What’s your sleep routine?

My sleep routine is very strict. I refuse to get less than eight hours a night. Everybody is different, but I need at least eight hours every night, sometimes I’ll get ten. I try to limit blue light and I don’t watch TV before bed. Typically, I’ll get in bed around 10pm, get a book and read a few pages and then go to sleep. I don’t really believe in alarm clocks either, unless I have to be up early for something and I can’t miss it, otherwise I let my body wake up naturally when it wants to.

And you work with a sleep app?

Indorsia. I’m doing their campaign which is basically making sure everyone is educated and aware about sleep and fighting the stigma on talking about sleep. If you have issues sleeping, it’s okay to address that, it’s not a weird thing to talk about with your doctor. But also addressing the fact that people do need to sleep. I think we have this weird glorification of sleep not being important but in sports if you don’t sleep people assume you’re not taking your job seriously and I think that should apply to everyone in life, no matter what your job is or what you do, so it’s just an awareness campaign.

What led you to Austin?

When I was graduating from Harvard in 2019 I was looking for an environment where I could really challenge myself in track & field and be around training partners whose goal was also to make the Olympic team. I also wanted to be in a city where I could go to grad school. So, my options were a little bit limited because the way track is, you only have a few training groups around the country that are specialized in your events. I landed on Austin because I loved the group of girls, I loved my coach and it’s an environment where I really felt like I could thrive, emotionally and physically. And UT! Austin was a perfect fit for me.

What do you like about living in Austin?
I love how dog-friendly it is. I love how everyone is pretty outdoorsy. There are so many things you can do here that don’t just revolve around drinking. And the people are just so nice here, it’s such a great community. And the food, of course.


QUICK FIRE


When did you get Rico? December 2020 at the Austin Human Society

Favorite place to run in Austin? The trail by the lake, it’s incredible. I’m not a long-distance runner, but when I can I love it.

Favorite restaurants in Austin? I love TenTen, it’s insane, and Hanks

Favorite spa? Milk + Honey

Last book you read? “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

Last show you binged? Real Housewives of Atlanta

If you could ask advice from anyone dead or alive? Serena Williams. I’d ask her how she stayed on top for so long.

Last thing you bought online? Probably a dog toy for Rico.

3 must-haves when you travel? A water bottle, a book and my back brace. It helps with recovery.

I landed on Austin because I loved the group of girls, I loved my coach and it’s an environment where I could thrive. And UT! Austin was a perfect fit for me.

I feel really strong going into the Olympics. I know what I’m capable of, how to compete, how to bring my best self and how to prepare for it. I’m looking forward to applying it to next year.

  • Powering through, one step at a time
  • Salt wall at The Four Seasons
  • Writing it down
  • Check out Gabby's sleep routine