Gabby Thomas has earned two Olympic medals and a world title. She’s a legit contender for Olympic gold in Paris.

But that’s just her side hustle. Thomas is a life-saver.

“Gabby’s work is going to save the most marginalized and oppressed people,” says her mother, Jennifer Randall, an endowed professor of education at the University of Michigan. “It’s really about human rights. That’s the legacy she’s going to leave. So many communities are going to be better because she exists in the world.”

For five years now, as Thomas has risen to Olympic medalist status in her sport, she has served at a Volunteer Healthcare Clinic in Austin, Texas. The clinic provides primary care to children and adults who lack other access to such healthcare.

Thomas, 27, is uniquely qualified for the role. She graduated from Harvard in 2019 with a bachelor's degree in neurobiology and global health. Then, she earned her master’s in epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

“People will know Gabby as this amazing Olympian who went to Harvard, but what really matters is the people who will never know the advocacy she did on their behalf,” Randall says. “People rarely even know who those workers are in public health, but they change lives."

As a Harvard freshman, Thomas took a seminar in disparate health outcomes among marginalized people. The class impacted her greatly, and she decided to dedicate her life to helping the world do better. A decade later, Thomas is using her two degrees to provide and advocate for more robust healthcare on behalf of those who need it most.

Thomas is doing this while chasing those Olympic medals — she earned a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 200m in Tokyo.

“What’s the point in doing all this, in being this great Olympic person, if all you leave the world is fast times?” Randall asks. “What’s the point then? You have to leave the world with more.”

With that mission in mind, Thomas sent an email in 2019 to the Volunteer Healthcare Clinic.

“Gabby sent that email as she was intensely training for the Olympics,” says the clinic's Director of Volunteer Services Laura Hurst. “She started immediately. She’s really amazing.”


Thomas is much more than a typical volunteer. She’s the director of programs and manages a team of volunteers focused on patients with hypertension (high blood pressure).

“Hypertension is a scary killer,” Hurst says. “So this education, this program is very important.”

The Volunteer Healthcare Clinic also has just four full-time staffers, so they rely immensely on dedicated volunteers like Thomas.

“Sometimes, it'll consist of us going in and talking about what we can do to improve their patient experience,” Thomas says. “We’re spending time following up with the patients, making sure that they're getting their doctor's appointments. We're chatting with their doctors, making sure they're getting their medications.”

And that crucial work — not the glitzy Olympic track career — dominates Thomas’ conversations with her mom.

“It's never, ‘How’s track going?’” Thomas says. “It's usually about either school or my clinic work. In some ways, I really do appreciate that it's never about practice or the Olympics. It’s kind of refreshing.”

Randall’s own life and career shape the messaging to her daughter. Randall has a Ph.D from Emory University, plus master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Duke, where she met Gabby’s father, Desmond Thomas. Now, Randall runs a nonprofit at Michigan specializing in combating racial bias in assessments.

“She's a powerhouse of a woman,” Thomas says about her mother. “It's been really incredible to watch her go from being a waitress to a preschool teacher to a high school teacher to going back to school to becoming a professor."

“I know where she came from and where we came from. At the beginning, we didn't have a lot. I've seen what [education] has done for her, and how she's able to chase her dreams. I want to do the same thing.”

As Randall emphasizes education in the family, Randall does also relish being Thomas’ top fan during her track career. She recently returned from a trip to The Bahamas to watch her daughter compete in the World Athletics Relays, where Thomas helped power the U.S. 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams to victories.

Thomas has continued to put in hours at the clinic during the lead-up to the Olympics. The patients she works with cheer on their superstar volunteer — and Hurst says the clinic will likely plan a watch party for this year’s Olympics.

“A couple of them have recognized me now that I have a relationship with them,” Thomas says. “They know what I do and follow it. But it's also nice to sometimes go there and not really be thinking about track.

I’m just Gabby to them. Gabby, who's just a human making an impact on the community.

In 2021, Thomas organized a donation of 130 shoes courtesy of her sponsor, New Balance, to encourage hypertension patients to walk more. Another round of sneakers are on their way this year, too.

“A lot of people can say they want to do things, but Gabby is actually doing this work at a high level,” Hurst says. “I don’t think you can underestimate the power of what one person can do”

Thomas’ bright future awaits her, a future in which she is likely to affect some serious, impactful change. Thomas says she might go back to school “when things calm down,” possibly to pursue a Ph.D.

But first, the spotlight is set to shine once again on Thomas the Olympian. The 2024 Olympic Games begin in under 100 days in Paris, where it won’t hurt that Thomas’ uniquely impressive résumé includes a citation in French from Harvard.

Even before Paris, the U.S. Olympic Trials loom next month in Eugene, Oregon, where Thomas plans to defend her 200m title while also competing in either the 100m or 400m as a second event. 

“It's a matter of what I feel most comfortable and confident doing,” Thomas says. “But my goal is to focus on the 200, and to get the gold in the 200 meters.”

If she does take that leap to Olympic gold, the world will again heap deserved praise on Gabby Thomas. But to her — and to her parents, her family, her patients and to her four-year-old pug, Rico — she’s just Gabby.

“Who I am off the track has always come first,” Thomas says. “Track is an added bonus. It’s something I love. I think it’s an important perspective that all athletes should have, which is that your sport is not who you are.

I've always seen myself just as Gabby Thomas.