Elite Athlete Encourages Young Amputees

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The youngest of five children, Thomas was born without a fibula and had two toes at the distal end of his residual limb that needed to be removed. His parents took him to five doctors, who all said that he would have to be in a wheelchair at least until about the age of six, when possibly they could do something to enable him to wear a prosthesis.

The sixth doctor said bluntly, "Get [him] in this Friday. I will cut the toes off, and he will be just fine." Thomas underwent surgery at age ten and a half months. A month later he was fitted with his first prosthesis and began walking.

While waiting for a delayed flight in 1990, Thomas read an article in Sports Illustrated that changed his life. The article about legendary disabled skier Diana Golden inspired the college student to research amputees' track and field performances. He began to focus on training for the Pentathlon, which includes long jump, shot-put, 100-meter race, discus, and 400-meter race.

In 1992 Thomas was selected for that year's US Paralympic team. However, shortly before the competition in Barcelona, Spain, he developed a staph infection. The medical staff recommended he not compete, but Thomas persevered. Despite constant pain, he succeeded in capturing the bronze medal. Just one year later, he became the US Pentathlon record holder, a title he retains to this day.

Thomas conducted a First Step clinic for Disabled Sports USA (DS/USA) at the Endeavor Games, Edmond, Oklahoma, in June. He was thrilled to report, "We were able to get a 16-year-old missing one arm above the elbow and two legs above the knee to run the 100-meter. He was awesome!"

Then in July, he held a bio-fit seminar for young people at the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) Annual Educational Conference and Exposition in Anaheim, California.

Thomas then headed for Lille, France, to represent the US at the International Paralympic Committee 2002 Athletics World Championships (results not available at press time). For the discus and shot-put events, he was fitted with Otto Bock's new LuXon Max DP Dynamic Response Foot Pylon System, currently only available in the US. For the running events, Thomas uses Otto Bock's Springlite Sprinter.

Life's Highlights

One of Thomas' most memorable moments was meeting a young man, David Roberts, and his parents, during a trip to Houston. David had lost both legs in a boating accident. David's father was having an especially hard time dealing with his son's disability.

"Later that year, we had a chance to race in the Olympic Festival in San Antonio," Thomas said. "I invited the Roberts to come and watch it. After the race, I could see the look of hope on the faces of the entire family." David went on to compete in junior wheelchair events.

Another memorable time for Thomas was in 1993, when he and two other amputees traveled on a 15-city "Hoop-It-Up" tour, competing against another three-person basketball team. "This was a vehicle to show able-bodied people what we could do," Thomas said. The group also made hospital visits and met with local amputees in each city.

Thomas recalls his best athletic moment: "Winning the silver in Atlanta. Most people thought I could not beat another American. I came from behind in the 400-meter to secure the silver."

Thomas lives in Pipe Creek, Texas, near San Antonio, where he was born.

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