This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Gabby Thomas almost gave up on Harvard before her college career had really begun. Balancing grueling track workouts with a demanding science-heavy class schedule pushed her to the brink freshman year. Then, she did the thing people needing advice do every day: she called her mom.
“She just said ‘you’ll be OK, you’ll be fine,’” recalled Thomas of the conversation with her mother, Jennifer Randall, a statistics professor at UMass Amherst, who told her daughter she should give it time. So, Thomas stayed, dived into her studies, and made NCAA history.
Today the 5’11’’ sprinter and Atlanta native knows she made the right choice.
“Here I am. I am more than fine,” said Thomas, a neurobiology concentrator and a standout track athlete for the Crimson who signed a contract with athletic shoemaker New Balance in October, foregoing her last year of collegiate eligibility to race against the elite in her sport. Currently an assistant coach as she completes her senior year, Thomas still trains with the team, traveling to meets and occasionally running in the professional races that are held alongside collegiate events. She supports the Crimson runners however she can, offering up everything from emotional encouragement to tips on relay handoffs. “Honestly, it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy being there for them in any way that they need it,” she said.
“I’ve just had such an amazing experience here,” Thomas said of her Harvard time. “Everything has just gone so well for me, and I am so grateful for every opportunity that I’ve had.”
“Gone well” is one way to describe it; others might call it exceptional. During her University career Thomas managed to compete in Olympic qualifying trials in 2016. She also logged multiple personal, Harvard, and Ivy League bests, setting the School and Ivy League records in the outdoor 100-meter and 200-meter dash and the indoor 60-meter dash, and becoming the Ivy League Most Outstanding Track Performer at the league’s outdoor and indoor track and field championships in 2017 and 2018. And she excelled at the triple jump, long jump, and the 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays.
But her biggest title, the one that got her seriously thinking about turning pro, came last year at the NCAA Indoor Championships in College Station, Texas. Fresh from a Harvard study abroad summer program in Senegal, Thomas was eager to run. “I was ready to be at Harvard again,” she said. “I was ready to compete with track and I think that really showed.”