Debi Thomas biography
Born in New York in 1967, Olympian Debi Thomas started ice skating at an early age. At the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she became the first African American to win a non-novice title, winning the World Championships that same year. In 1988, Thomas competed at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, winning the bronze medal and becoming the first African American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. Graduating from Stanford University in 1991, Thomas went on to pursue a medical degree. In 1997, she graduated from Northwestern University Medical School. She was named to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and currently works as an orthopedic surgeon.
Born Debra Janine Thomas on March 25, 1967, in Poughkeepsie, New York, famed athlete and physician Debi Thomas is best known for becoming the first African American win a medal at the Winter Olympic Games in 1988. Thomas first stepped into the skating rink at the age of 5. By the age of 9, she was taking formal lessons and winning competitions. At age 10, Thomas signed on with coach Alex McGowan, who guided her career as she trained for the Olympics.
As an African-American figure skater, judges often discriminated against Thomas, giving better marks to her competitors for what many saw as less-impressive skills. She persevered, however, and at the age of 12, she advanced to the national novice finals, where she won the silver medal.
Leading 1980s Skater
Debi Thomas pursued higher education while continuing to skate competitively. At Stanford University, she studied engineering. Thomas was only a freshman when she scored two major career victories. In February 1986, she took the senior women's title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships—becoming the first African American to win a non-novice title. That same year, Thomas earned the top spot at the World Championships.
In 1988, Thomas competed at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, where she won the bronze medal in the women's figure skating event (coming behind Canadian skater Elizabeth Manley, who took the silver, and East German skater Katarina Witt, who earned the gold) and made history as the first African American to win a medal (in any sport) at the Winter Olympics. That same year, Thomas once again won the U.S. Championships.
Life After Olympics
In 1991, Thomas earned her bachelor's degree from Stanford University. She retired from skating the following year in order to enter Northwestern University Medical School. After graduating from Northwestern in 1997, Thomas decided to continue her medical training to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Thomas has proven to be just as driven in her career as a doctor as she was as a skater. After completing her residency at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, California, she received a fellowship at Centinela Hospital's Dorr Arthritis Institute in Inglewood. In 2010, Thomas opened her own practice in Virginia, specializing in knee and hip replacements.
Over the years, Debi Thomas has received many accolades for her contributions to figure skating. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and served as a representative for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Additionally, Thomas is an active supporter of several charities, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation.