Harvard Track Star Gabby Thomas Inks Pro Deal with New Balance

New Balance athlete Gabby Thomas runs on a track after signing a professional contract

Harvard sprinter Gabby Thomas was still jogging when she looked back to check her time. The screen at the finish line of the 2018 NCAA Division I Indoor Championships flashed “22.38” in bright white numbers.

Thomas hoisted her arms and put her hands on her head in disbelief. A huge smile lit up her face—she just broke the NCAA record for the women’s 200m.

But it wasn’t her first record. Crack open the Harvard track and field record books, and you’ll find Gabby Thomas's name over and over again.

The sprinter owns the Crimson’s indoor records at 60m, 200m and 300m; the four fastest 4x400m relay teams also feature her name. Outside, Thomas tops the 100m and 200m lists, and she recorded the university’s best long jump. (She also ran the 200m at the 2018 IAAF Diamond League meet in London, posting a personal best 22.19.)

Now there’s a new place you’ll find Thomas’s name: a professional contract.

The 22-year-old Florence, Massachusetts, native inked a deal last October to run professionally for New Balance following one of the most impressive Ivy League careers ever. She gave up her final year of NCAA eligibility to run for the Boston-based brand, but she’s not stepping away from her studies just yet: Thomas will graduate from Harvard in May after studying neurobiology and global policy.

Thomas talked with us recently to discuss what it’s like to turn pro, how she manages her rigorous schedule and what big goals she’ll tackle next.

New Balance runner Gabby Thomas runs at a 2019 USA Track and Field event in Boston. (Victah Sailer)

Fleet Feet: Tell us about your decision to run professionally.

Gabby Thomas: It happened very quickly. Going pro wasn’t something I had been thinking about at all. It happened after the NCAA indoor meet where I won the 200m and broke the collegiate record. After my junior season, I ran in the IAAF Diamond League meet over the summer. It was a free trip to Europe, and I got to have a lot of fun. I talked to so many agents, and opportunities were presented. I thought, “Is it better to go back to the team and run one more year at Harvard?” Within a few months, I was presented with several options, and I decided that New Balance was the right choice for me. I’ve always been a New Balance girl. I love their shoes and clothes. They’re also right here in Boston, which makes things easy.

FF: What are you most excited about when it comes to being a New Balance athlete?

GT: I was really excited about meeting all the New Balance fans. It’s such a close group. They sent me messages and reached out. Meeting them all was really fun. Being able to influence people and have people look up to you for your running is meaningful. You’re much more on the map when you turn pro. People reach out and tell you how inspired they are by your running. More parents reach out than I would have expected, saying that I set an example for their kids. It’s really nice to hear.

FF: Now that you’re a professional runner, what has changed most for you?

GT: My mindset toward the sport. Day to day, life is pretty much the same aside from extra logistical things. Every meet you go to is a little more important. The training is more important. When you’re on the team, you’re doing it for yourself, but you’re running for the team as well.

Right now it’s an interesting situation because I’m still in school and still a student. There’s not a lot of flexibility or room for change. I’m in class all day. I still train with my teammates and train with my same coach.

FF: How do you manage such a busy schedule?

GT: It was tough transitioning from high school to college and being a student-athlete. It’s a lot to handle. You have to get the hang of time management and be deliberate with scheduling. It helps to hang out with people who are disciplined like you are. You have to take advantage of the resources that are available to you. It’s also important to remember to have fun and that it’s a blessing to be able to run.

FF: Tell us about your goals for the season.

GT: I want to compete in the World Championships this year and run on the 4x400m team. That’s what I’m building toward right now. That, and training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Sprinter Gabby Thomas poses for a photo after signing a professional contract to run with New Balance

FF: What do you do when you are preparing to race? Do you have any pre-race rituals that you do to help you feel ready?

GT: I truly like to spend the day like it’s any other day. Watching Netflix and preparing. I always have coffee. I’ll bring a coffee to the meet and drink it before the race. I also do a meditation before I run. After I run, I do a cooldown, but then I like to relax and treat myself.

FF: What's your favorite pre-race meal?

GT: Pasta! And coffee.

FF: What do you like to do when you’re not training?

GT: Well, I mostly am doing homework and at the track all day. But when I relax I like to watch a lot of Netflix. And I love to eat out. All my money goes toward going out to eat with friends.

FF: What are you watching on Netflix these days?

GT: Friends, Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder, Queer Eye—and this is just Netflix.

FF: Once you earn your degree, will your focus shift solely to your professional running career? Do you have any plans to pursue work in your fields of study now or in the near future?

GT: I plan to focus pretty heavily on track up until Tokyo 2020 and take advantage of this opportunity while I can. I think it'll be a good idea for me to take a short break from school and focus on running, and then return to grad school. My plan is to pursue a Master of Public Health in the next few years, so I'll be applying next year.

FF: If you could give young track athletes one piece of advice, what would it be?

GT: Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and always do what's best for YOU.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Photos courtesy of New Balance, Victah Sailer

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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