Florence’s Gabby Thomas signs pro deal with New Balance

  • Florence’s Gabby Thomas runs at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The Williston Northampton graduate and Harvard senior chose to forgo her final season of collegiate eligibility and sign a professional contract with New Bal COURTESY HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

  • Florence’s Gabby Thomas starts at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The Williston Northampton graduate and Harvard senior chose to forgo her final season of collegiate eligibility and sign a professional contract with New Balance. COURTESY HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

  • Jenna Prandini, of the U.S., center right, and Gabrielle Thomas, of the U.S., center left, compete in the women’s 200-meter race at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at London Stadium in London, July 22. AP

  • Gabby Thomas, a Williston Northampton graduate and Harvard senior, chose to forgo her final season of collegiate eligibility and sign a professional contract with New Balance. COURTESY NEW BALANCE

  • Gabby Thomas, a Williston Northampton graduate and Harvard senior, chose to forgo her final season of collegiate eligibility and sign a professional contract with New Balance. COURTESY NEW BALANCE

  • Gabby Thomas, a Williston Northampton graduate and Harvard senior, chose to forgo her final season of collegiate eligibility and sign a professional contract with New Balance. COURTESY NEW BALANCE

Staff writer
Published: 10/8/2018 4:04:34 PM

Gabby Thomas seized an ideal opportunity.

The Florence native signed a professional contract with New Balance on Thursday that runs through 2022, forgoing her senior season of eligibility at Harvard. New Balance announced the signing Monday. She is the only female sprinter the company sponsors.

Paul Doyle of Doyle Management Group represents Thomas and negotiated the contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I’m hot on track right now, I’m hot in track and field news,” Thomas said. “Let’s get this money while I can.”

She set an NCAA record in the 200-meter dash at the NCAA Indoor Championships, finishing her signature event in 22.38 seconds to become the first Ivy League woman to win that title. Thomas also placed second in the 200 at the outdoor NCAA championships and competed in prestigious Diamond League meets in Europe over the summer.

She wore New Balance throughout her career at Harvard. Thomas will train in the Fresh Foam 890 and 1400v4 shoes and compete wearing the Vazee Sigma and the Vazee Verge. New Balance also endorses sprinters Vernon Norwood and Trayvon Bromell.

“This opportunity is hard to turn down. If you think about it, is it worth one more year being on the team? Will my value still be the same a year from now?” said Thomas, who attended the Williston Northampton School prior to Harvard. “Will I replicate that dream season I just had and have the same opportunities next year? These were all things I had to weigh.”

She didn’t have to forgo finishing her education. Though she won’t compete for Harvard this track season, Thomas will remain enrolled at the Cambridge university and finish her degree in neurobiology. She also has a secondary in global health and health policy.

“It was never in the question to leave Harvard,” Thomas said. “So if that was ever going to be a requirement of signing the contract it wouldn’t have happened.”

In a way the professional contract will help her further her education. Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, so Thomas had to pay her own way with financial aid.

“Harvard has never given me any money to be here,” she said. “Now it’s like I have a scholarship.”

Her life won’t change much transitioning from a collegiate athlete to a professional athlete attending college. Thomas will still work out at the same times and with the same coach, Harvard sprints coach Kebba Tolbert.

“Our relationship is a little different now. He’s working for me now because I’m a professional, at least for this year here while I’m still taking classes,” Thomas said.

Tolbert knew Thomas becoming a professional was a possibility and was prepared for it.

“It’s not completely unexpected,” he said. “We are definitely losing something and someone. You can’t replace that type of talent right away and that type of work ethic and personality. We’re only losing the points, not the person.”

Instead of scoring points for Harvard, Thomas will be competing for herself and a spot on the U.S. team at major international meets. The U.S. championships are in July. The IAAF World Championships take place Sept. 27-Oct. 6, 2019, in Doha, Qatar, and Tokyo is hosting the Olympics in 2020. There’s also another set of World Championships in 2021.

“It’s going to be a pretty important cycle,” Thomas said.

Her goal is to make the USA team for the 2019 World Championships, and barring that the 2020 Olympic team. Thomas tried to make the Olympic team in 2016 after her freshman season but placed sixth in the 200. Only the top three qualify for the Olympics.

“I think this is a good time, too, considering the new generation of track athletes coming in,” Thomas said. “I think this will be a good time in two years for the younger generation to come in and make the team.”

Right now Thomas doesn’t have a team. She officially left Harvard’s squad Wednesday before signing her professional contract.

“It definitely was (difficult to leave the team). It’s a huge decision. Once you give up your eligibility there is no going back,” Thomas said. “Especially since track is such an individual sport. It was a lot to think about.”

Thomas started to think about the possibility of running professionally after her successful indoor season. Then agents and shoe companies began to contact her during the spring and summer when she was running in Europe at the Diamond League meets.

“That’s when I knew this was a great opportunity for me and a great time to do it,” Thomas said. “It’s a lot of money. If I wait it’s a risk. If I wait, and I replicate this season? You never know what’s going to happen.”

Thomas has been in offseason mode since her last Diamond League race in late August.

“I haven’t worked out or looked at a track since that last race in Brussels,” she said.

She’ll begin base training and map out her competition schedule over the next few weeks. Thomas is undecided on competing at indoor meets or how many if she does.

“It’s gonna be such a long season for everybody. Coming off the collegiate season like I did last year and continuing to run late into the fall is basically impossible,” Thomas said. “You can’t peak that many times.”

No matter where track and field might bring her, Thomas remembers where she came from.

“Girls from western Massachusetts and went to boarding school competing in the prep school division at this level, it doesn’t happen,” she said. “I’m very aware of that all the time. It makes me unique. It shows how hard I work. I love that being a part of my story.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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