Unlikely senior javelin thrower stands alone in his field
Every year, an athlete at the top of their game, ready to take on the world, comes crashing down due to an unforeseen injury.
That happened to senior Jack Thomas in a big way. In 2016, after taking an entire semester off from the track & field team to improve a heart condition, Thomas accomplished that and went on to compete in the javelin throw at the Olympic Trials. But an injury to his UCL knocked Thomas out of competition for the next year and a half.
Yet in his very first meet back from injury, the Cougar Spring Break Invitational on March 15, Thomas threw the second-best mark in program history at 71.58m, the sixth-best javelin throw in the NCAA this season.
“If you ask any athlete, they will tell you they feel like they have more in the tank and they always want to throw further,” Thomas said, “but it was definitely exciting. Also to do it at UH with all my friends who I hadn’t got to compete with (for so long), it was great.”
Thomas is one of just a handful of track & field athletes at UH who was not recruited.
While still playing baseball and football at Fort Bend Christian Academy, Thomas frequently came up to the University to receive lessons from Rayner Noble, the Cougar baseball coach from 1994 to 2010.
It was during these visits that Thomas met Tom Tellez, the former UH head track & field coach who trained Olympic gold medalists Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell. Tellez started helping Thomas develop his speed for football, and he convinced Tony Levine, UH’s head football coach at the time, to recruit Thomas as a walk-on.
Thomas redshirted his freshman year on the football team, and in the offseason Tellez convinced him to come to the track team and compete in the javelin throw, even though he had never thrown one before.
“I came in as a walk on, I got redshirted. Nothing was going wrong with football, but at my first track meet I threw 65 meters, which is far enough to qualify for regionals,” Thomas said. “So I thought, ‘Maybe I have potential in this.’ It was more of what went right with track versus what went wrong with football.”
As the Cougars’ only javelin thrower, Thomas lacks a partner to hold him accountable and push him to improve, like most athletes do. Despite throwing alone, when he’s in shape, Thomas has been a key cog in the track & field machine.
“It does make things kind of lonely,” Thomas said. “But hey, I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my javelins.”
Beat of the heart
During the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Thomas was being treated for atrial fibrillation, a condition that can cause the heart to beat sporadically. Thomas said his father shares the same condition. In 2016, Thomas felt arrhythmia in his heart, despite the drugs he was prescribed to prevent it.
That required a checkup at the hospital, where Thomas decided he wanted to get to a point where he could compete without having to rely on medication.
“I didn’t want to be medicated. My dad is not medicated,” Thomas said. “The only reason I was (medicated) was because I was in a competition setting, so my doctors and cardiologists were a little bit concerned that I could go into AFib while competing. But I didn’t want that to be the case, so I took the semester off to get that situated.”
Thomas also used the semester off to recover from scapular impingement in his shoulder, which was preventing him from throwing. But Thomas got to full heath just in time to compete in the Olympic trials in 2016.
At the trials, he tore his UCL in his elbow, knocking him out of competition and keeping him sidelined for the entire 2017 season.
The Truman Show
Thomas’ historic season-opening throw was made even more special given his medically-induced breaks in competition. The success the whole program has been experiencing makes Thomas feel like Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show,” in which Carrey learns his life is actually a TV show, and he is the star.
The national media has caught on to how well the sprinters are running for UH. They expect to win at nationals. With athletes like senior distance runner Brian Barraza in the 3000m steeplechase and sophomore multi Nathaniel Mechler in the decathlon, the Cougars are rounding out a squad to make a run at the title come May.
Thomas’ presence on the team gives the Cougars one more weapon at the national meet.
“In many ways I feel UH’s story right now is like (a movie),” Thomas said. “It seems the parts are just randomly coming together in such a way that we will be in a perfect position to do well at nationals and potentially win the national meet. Especially, (for me) coming off that surgery there was no guarantee that I was going to be able to throw the way I did before it. It definitely feels like the stars aligned.”