Olympian Gabby Thomas Arranges Surprise Donation for Austin’s Volunteer Healthcare Clinic

Gabby Thomas poses with volunteers and Fleet Feet staff members.

Gabby Thomas rocketed toward the finish line of the 200-meter final at the Tokyo Games, her long hair flying behind her like a cape. She had just edged out Jamaican sensation Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce by less than one tenth of a second to win a bronze medal.

Pictures of Thomas standing on the start line with her hands on her hips, her flowing hair held back by a thin headband, began drawing comparisons to Wonder Woman. What many people didn’t know was that Thomas was already regarded as a hero in the healthcare community in Austin, Texas.

Not Your Average Volunteer

Professional New Balance runner Gabby Thomas

Gabby Thomas graduated from Harvard with a degree in Neurobiology and plans to earn a Master of Public Health. After she graduated, she signed a professional contract with New Balance, one of the major powerhouses in professional running.

“I've had an interest in combating health disparities since my freshman year of college. It's an issue that has always been close to my heart,” Thomas says. “I knew that when I graduated, I wanted to use my education and abilities to make a difference.”

She began studying at the University of Texas at Austin and volunteering at the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic as a Charge Nurse Assistant, all while juggling the demands of a professional running career.

“We’re a medical safety net for people who don't have other access to health care,” says Marci Roe, executive director of the clinic. The VHC would typically draw in about 500 volunteers over the course of the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It's been particularly challenging to keep a volunteer-driven clinic going during a pandemic,” Roe explains.

For Thomas, volunteering at the clinic was a way to use her talents to make a difference in her community.

“My favorite part of volunteering was seeing how truly committed all of the volunteers were to helping those in need. It was such a beautiful community to be a part of,” Thomas says. “From simply educating patients on resources to staying an extra couple of hours at the clinic, I witnessed how small sacrifices can make a big difference in somebody's life.”

In the winter of 2021 the VHC was struggling, along with every other healthcare provider in the country, with the increased demands of the pandemic. Add to that the Texas freeze that unexpectedly overtook the Lone Star State, and things were looking pretty bleak in Austin.

That’s where Gabby Thomas stepped in.

A Bright Spot in a Bleak Time

Gabby Thomas holds up a large cardboard box.

With millions of Texans without electricity during the 2021 Texas freeze, Thomas knew that the Austin area was in need of assistance. She wanted to arrange a donation that would make an impact and she knew exactly where to send it.

“Out of all the places I could have arranged a donation, I chose the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic because I have seen it firsthand make a genuine difference in many lives,” says Thomas. “I wanted my donation to have a true impact and go a long way, and I knew that at VHC that would happen.”

Thomas, who was training for the upcoming Olympic Trials, arranged for a $5,000 donation to the clinic and for every single VHC staff and board member to receive a new pair of shoes.

“It was such a bright spot in what had been a challenging year. It just lifted spirits which was huge,” Roe says. “Everybody was really excited about it. It motivated people. I felt it personally and I heard it from my staff and board.”

Fleet Feet Austin then donated an additional 100 pairs of New Balance shoes, along with socks, for the volunteers and patients.

“The work of the entire Volunteer Healthcare Clinic team and what it means to those in need, the level of generosity shown by both Gabby and New Balance, and the humbling gesture to allow us to play a small part in the effort spoke to us,” says Ari Perez of Fleet Feet Austin. “It felt like we were amongst real life superheroes, Gabby Thomas included!"

The VHC was able to use the extra shoes to celebrate volunteers who went above and beyond during the pandemic.

“When we got the additional shoes it was really cool because we weren't able to do our annual volunteer appreciation event because of the pandemic. This donation came through right around the time we usually do that,” Roe explains. “We had some really amazing volunteers that just stepped up during the pandemic and got us through.”

Seeing the impact of the donation made it all worth it for Thomas.

“It felt really rewarding to see how appreciative the volunteers were and knowing that the donation was going to be used to supply the clinic with resources it needed,” she says.

Months later, the VHC watched with pride as Thomas captured her first two Olympic medals - a bronze in the individual 200-meter race and a silver in the 4x100-meter relay.

“We're thrilled to have her as a friend and advocate for the clinic,” Roe says. “And the fact that she would think of us in the midst of training for the Olympics, during a pandemic no less, that was amazing.”

Keep Reading