MileSplit Ohio caught up with Westlake senior, and Stanford University bound, Samantha Thomas to hear about her 2020 indoor state championship winning effort in the 400, her injury-related obstacles and how she's persevered through them, as well as what she's looking forward to accomplishing at the college level.
How did you initially get started in the sport?
"Both of my parents ran track, so I was exposed to it at an early age. I ran my first race at three years old. It was a very short fun run at a local road race. Throughout my childhood, my main sport was soccer, but I ran in a small indoor meet a couple of times when I was in elementary school. I started training for track in middle school when we had a school team."
What are some of the highlights from your time competing for Westlake?
"My two favorite memories are from the New Balance Outdoor meet in 2018 where I competed in the 400 meter hurdles and the OATCCC D1 Indoor State meet this year where I won the 400 meter dash."
What, if any, adversity did you have to work to overcome during your high school career?
"In 2018, a few days after the USATF Junior Olympics National Championship where I was an All-American, I tore my ACL and meniscus during a soccer game. I was angry and scared, but I was also hopeful that I would have a quick recovery. I fully expected to be back in time for outdoor track and maybe even part of the indoor season."
"I had problems early on with regaining range of motion, but my doctor and physical therapist thought that nothing was wrong, and I was assured that some people are slower to regain range of motion. So I went on with my regular physical therapy, but my knee was still not bending and extending as it should have been. I went to another physical therapist, Selena Budge, who specializes in ACL recovery and helped Abby Steiner recover from her ACL tear. I worked with her to build back my strength, but my knee still wasn't flexible. About six months after my surgery, my doctor ordered another MRI. I went to another orthopedic surgeon that specializes in sports medicine. He knew right away what my problem was: a buildup of scar tissue."
"At the end of March 2019, I had another surgery to fix this. The doctor cleaned out all of the scar tissue, and after the surgery, my knee was able to bend and extend completely. I started another round of physical therapy a few days later, and within a month, I had almost full range of motion back! I was finally able to jog again, and it felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I started training again in June after I was released from therapy, nearly ten months after the original injury. My stride was a little uneven, as my leg muscles weren't quite equal yet."
"But as I kept running and lifting, I regained my strength and fitness. By the beginning of this past indoor season, I could tell that my speed was returning. In my first indoor meet in December 2019, I won the 200 and 400 with a PR in the 200 after already competing in two heats of the 60 and the 400. I began setting PRs at nearly every meet and won the 400 in all but one meet. Not only had I gained strength, endurance, and speed, but I learned to run every race like it was my last."
Looking ahead, what goals would you like to accomplish at the college level and what program of studies will you enter at Stanford?
"I will be majoring in Human Biology on the pre-med track. I will be competing in the 400 meter hurdles and the 400 meter dash and hopefully joining the 4x400 relay team. During my freshman year, my goals are to place in the PAC-12 Championships and to qualify for the NCAA Championship West preliminary meet. My overall goal is to qualify for the NCAA D1 Championship meet."
What do you think you'll miss most about high school?
"I will miss my friends the most! They're some of the most supportive, encouraging, and funny people that I've had the honor of knowing. We're all leaving Ohio to go to college, so we won't be able to see each other very often, but I can't wait to see them do great things in college!"
Who's helped you get to the point where you're ready to compete at the Division 1 college level?
"Several people have helped me reach success. The first is Jason Hudson. I have worked with Coach Hudson during the off-season since I started high school and for the past two summers, I have run with his club, Oberlin Spikes. Coach Hudson worked with me to learn how to run the long hurdles after I tried the 400 hurdles for fun at a summer meet after my freshman year and won."
"The second person is Rodney Hooks. I worked out with Coach Hooks during the summers when I was in middle school and periodically throughout high school. He has really helped me with my running mechanics and hurdle form. Coach Hooks was the first person to tell me that I would run D1 track in college."
"Another person that helped me last summer and throughout the fall as I worked to regain my speed and endurance is Frank Jancura. Coach Jancura (formerly coached at St. Ignatius) not only helped with workouts, but he has also been coming to watch me compete for years and analyzes my mechanics and races. And finally, my mom, who runs my workouts when I'm not with my other coaches."
Do you have any advice for juniors and underclassmen regarding what you learned about the college recruiting process?
"Get in contact early with the coaches at every school that you think would be a good fit for you. Keep an open mind as you go through the process because you may find that your "dream school" changes as you learn more about each school's academic and athletic programs. And, as you start narrowing down your choices, try to talk to team members about the coaches, the workouts, balancing classes and training, etc. so that you know what to expect if you enroll."
Is there anything else that you'd like to share?
"I'm sad that I won't have the chance to lower my school's records and to compete at the outdoor state meet this year. But I am super excited to be attending Stanford in the fall and to have the opportunity to compete for an excellent program."