Mikel Thomas: From Running With No Shoes to Competing in the Olympics

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Mikel Thomas started racing friends from his neighborhood with no shoes on to competing in the Olympics. This Trinidad and Tobago native is truly the personification of determination. Learn more about Mikel Thomas as he talks about track and field, making the Olympics and being a firefighter in Atlanta.

Why did you start running?

Running for me is one of those things that have been my circumstance to escape. Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago wasn’t the most luxurious area. I came out of circumstance and track and field is one of those sports where you don’t need anything. All you need is space and time. A lot of my introduction to the sport I did without shoes. In fact, you had to take off your shoes because you only had like one or two pairs and you really didn’t want to mess them up. When it was time to race the kids in the neighborhood, you took off your shoes, you got ready and you ran. Then it became an escape, as I grew older. It was an opportunity for me to gather my thoughts.

At what point did you realize that you wanted to run professionally?

Honestly, the idea running professionally kind of almost stumbled on me. It has always been a pursuit of knowing that I was capable of more. I believed I was professional in my actions before I had ever received a paycheck.

Everything for me has always been a progression an evolution. I just wanted always to be able to show the world what I believe inside and being able to get paid for it with a bonus. Track and Field isn’t one of those illustrious sports. It can be for some but for me, it’s always been trying to make an idea a dream a reality.

People say that running is all mental, do you agree?

Absolutely, because it’s just you and you’re running against an element that no one can control. It’s not like any other sport where you depending upon the comradery or the feedback of your teammates. There’s no manipulation of a ball or field. It is the time and time is that one thing that I feel like we all want somehow some way to be able to control. It plays on your emotions. You can literally be at your best physically and fail mentally. But draws a piece of you internally that I feel like a lot of people love. You get the sense when you hear people talk about the runner’s high but I do feel like there’s a cognitive effect as well. It forces you to know yourself; it forces you to know your rhythm

If you were not running what would you be doing?

The same exact thing I’m doing now. You can’t be an athlete forever. I can run forever but I can’t be at this elite level forever. In that regard, I really had to think about what it is that I really wanted to do moving forward and how I can create the greatest amount of impact. I just started the Fire Academy here in the Atlanta metro area. I’m still able to compete professionally but it would definitely be my future career along with my other philanthropic contributions that I would like to do in the sport.

You competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, 2012 Olympics in London and 2016 Olympics in Rio.Describe the feeling the first time you qualified to compete the first time.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was here in the city of Atlanta. I was having some downtime and I was still in university but of course, it was during the summer. I remember checking my email before cell phones were popping, so I had to go to a computer to check my emails. I remember reading that letter that you have been accepted and invited to participate and represent my beautiful country of Trinidad and Tobago. Words can’t even put it together. It’s like you literally remember every blood, sweat, and tears you poured and to see it come to fruition. Being at Olympic games is literally like a dream especially my first one because you see the people you admire; you see the worlds best-eating lunch, dinner, and breakfast with you from Serena Williams to Kobe Bryant. The fact that you are able to put yourself in that same sentence is humbling yet so motivating in the same sense.

What can we look forward to from  Mikel Thomas?

It’s about to be on and popping now. My goal is to continue to develop myself holistically. Sometimes as athletes especially as male athletes, we get so wrapped up in a certain identity of us in the sporting world. Whether it’s overcompensation from not getting certain affirmations growing up or trying to use it as an escape for a family or certain circumstances. I’ve definitely felt prey to all of those things but for me now it’s just really about living my best life. I want to be able to take all the lessons that I’ve learned from sports and apply it to everything.

We have the World Championship next year and we have the Olympics in 2020. Those are my two main focuses moving forward, maybe another world championship after that in 2021 but we’ll see.

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