Gabby Thomas remembers the exact moment she became interested in health equity. She was sitting in a Harvard classroom discussing how trauma and stress can be passed down through generations and alter genetics. She began to think of the long list of ancestral trauma being passed down. From slavery and Jim Crowe laws, to food deserts and lack of good jobs--stressors affecting Black communities add up and affect generations to come.
Thomas has seen this play out firsthand in her own family. "I had two kind of neuro-atypical brothers growing up. My twin with ADHD, and then my younger brother with Asperger's Syndrome," says Thomas, noting that this family history inspired her to study neurobiology in college.
Now, at 25, Thomas is already a two-time Olympic medalist in track and Harvard-educated epidemiologist. She's currently completing her Master's degree in public health at the University of Texas while also training for the 2024 Olympics.
"It's gonna be really hard for you to be motivated to challenge yourself every day if you don't love what you're doing," says Thomas, adding that passion alone won't make you successful, and that the trick is to find ways to get out of your comfort zone. Whether that comes from within, mentors, or in her case, coaches, she insists you have to push your limits: "It's the only way to really move forward."
One person who has helped Thomas along the way was a professor she had at Harvard. As a Black woman in STEM, she says, she often felt isolated, but "seeing people who are doing it and feeling comfortable doing it" kept her motivated.
Now, Thomas is in a place where she can rely on her self-confidence. It doesn't mean she doesn't have support, it just means she isn't afraid to throw herself into something new, and she wants to inspire others to do the same. Today, she says, it's about "not being afraid to push yourself and learn these new lessons that all kind of flow into one another," adding that she thinks, "each ambition helps the other one."