Hailing from the small fishing village of Dunmore East, Waterford, Thomas got his first taste of athletic life when he was eight years old when his parents encouraged him to try out every sport until he found the one that stuck. Now, at 25, he has run for Ireland in Rio, snatched gold in The World University Games, and become a role model for kids getting into sport.
“I tried out every sport that was available to me: soccer, basketball, rugby, but athletics was the one that stuck,” he says. Running for about 15 years has to be pretty tiring, we are tired just thinking about it, and for a brief moment Thomas got tired too, “When I moved to college I was actually contemplating if I wanted to continue with it. There is this whole other world in college where I had independence and freedom that I wasn’t aware of before and I thought, ‘Oh Jesus, athletics could be holding me back.’ I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep it up, you know? I left that circle of friends I made in Waterford in athletics and moved on to this new group, which is a really nice group. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep it up and I’m glad I did.”
Now his full time job consists of running and jumping.
Monday: Gym in the morning and track for speed endurance in the evening.
Tuesday: Circuits in the evening.
Wednesday: Rehabilitation exercises, flexibility, some core strength in the morning. In the evening is technical work, so blocks training, hurdle training or running technique work
Thursday: Conditioning sessions in the morning and speed session on the track in the evening.
Saturday: Hill training.
“It’s pretty much a full time job. When I was in college I was still training to that kind of intensity but now it has become my full time occupation.”
Training like this is intense, it is easy to see why this might not appeal to the average college student. “There is so much more out there as well, we have access to more activities and sports and stuff online. And there are people that say, ‘I’m not gonna to do this, this is so much more craic.’ When I go into schools I say, ‘I was in the same boat, I wanted to give up on everything, but I stuck with it.’ I stuck with it because I enjoyed it and I still do.”
Thomas is well aware of the lack of interest in sport many young people today have. A Sport Ireland report last year showed that less and less people aged 16-24 were participating in sport. Working with Irish Life Health, Thomas tries to get kids moving. “Back in our day, I feel like I’m fucking ancient now, but back in our day you didn’t have technology, so we were outside all the time.” Spoken like a true 25 year old. But there is something that kids find really relatable about Thomas, and it’s because of his age and the way he approaches them, “I say that ‘I started out like ye, I was a normal lad, I went to school, I didn’t succeed at everything when I was younger, I just enjoy it.’ And that’s something we need to hammer home with kids. Sport is fun.”
“When I was on my break from training, I was a lot more broody and it’s because I wasn’t training. Obviously, exercises releases, well I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but all those happy hormones and that becomes an addiction and you crave that. And I was craving that on my break. So it would be good to get kids actually craving sport and activity again.”
And what is the biggest thing that most athletes crave? Olympic glory. In the months prior to the Olympics, athletes are set a certain benchmark time that they have to run. “So the standards for the Olympic 400m hurdles was set at 49.4 seconds. But if you run to that standard you’re pretty much dead certain to be going. So that’s what I had to do.”
Thomas blew up while he was over in Rio, something he never would have imagined happening in a million years. Thinking it would all die down in a couple of days, Thomas has kept quite humble about it all. “I just thought it would be a fleeting interest and then everyone would go back to normal. But I really have to watch myself, especially in public and social media and stuff like that, I have to be careful.” And with people knowing his name and shaking his hand wherever he goes, he is aware of the pressure that comes with being an Olympic athlete. “It has become the norm that I have to be wary of myself, and to make sure that, for young kids looking on and watching me, that I have to maintain, I wouldn’t say an inspirational stature as such, but like a mature one and to try not be too crazy.”
As for the next six months, it’s head down for his next competition. Training in Tenerife, Limerick and Spain, April and May will start off his 2018 heat of competitions as he heads into the Europeans. We wish him luck.