Shandall Thomas: More than meters

Nick Bays, Contributing Reporter

As Shandall Thomas crossed the finish line for the 60-meter dash at the Iowa Black and Gold Premier, he proved to everyone, including himself, that he could still run with the best.

After running an impressive 60-meter dash time that awarded him Ohio Valley Conference Male Track Athlete of the Week Feb. 5, he turned to his mom, who was recording the race, and yelled with delight, “I’m back!”

Although Thomas wanted to run a time even faster than a 6.76, he couldn’t help but feel the joy of competing rush through his entire body. His 60-meter time is tied for ninth best in Eastern track history, and at the time, it was the best time in the conference.

To say that he’s “still got it” feels like an understatement.

Thomas truly is back. But what is he back from?

Coming out of high school, Thomas was an impressive sprinter at Schaumburg, Illinois. He was a state champion in the 4×200 meter relay and competed for multiple state championships in other various events.

His athletic dominance was noticed by Eastern director of track and field Brenton Emanuel, who coached at Illinois State before coming to Eastern, and awarded Thomas a scholarship to run at Illinois State.

Things were really looking up for him, and when he arrived at Illinois State, Thomas continued to shine as a track star. His talent was nothing less than impressive and his potential seemed limitless. With a bright future ahead of him, it looked as if nothing could stop him.

However, just as quickly as he achieved track prominence, he almost lost it all. With Thomas’ impressive track performances his freshman year, he said he began to develop an ego or a “big head,” which eventually made him yearn for the spotlight. In doing so, Thomas partook in activities with people he deemed “the wrong crowd.”

His new attitude and new activities brought his promising track career to a screeching halt. Illinois State released him from the roster, and Thomas never found his way back on to the team. He said the doors of opportunities felt like they were closing on him.

The magnitude of the situation hit him hardest when his roommate, who was also on the track team, left to compete for conference.

Thomas said he felt the weight of his reality come crashing down as his roommate closed the door, leaving him to process where it all went wrong.

Thomas had hit the bottom.

Although he found solace and comfort in competing in one of his favorite hobbies, Esports, he grew to miss how track made him feel.

All of the blood, sweat and tears he put into being a great track athlete seemed to be gone. He questioned what to do next.

Would he go on to run track again or would he pursue Esports? He said his love for videogames helped him look at the “bigger picture” and gave him more perspective. It allowed him to look beyond being a track athlete.

But during those confusing and uncertain times in Thomas’ life, Emanuel took the head coaching job for Eastern’s program and presented Thomas with an opportunity. Emanuel always wanted to see Thomas graduate above anything else and wanted to give him the chance to hit the track once again and thus help Thomas find himself in the process.

Thomas accepted the opportunity and became a Panther.

When first coming to Eastern and joining the team, he was not allowed to run track immediately. He had to wait a year to finally get back into the action.

Thomas said this made him question his love for track and it made it hard for him to “buy in” to the sport he grew up loving.

However, after working with his teammates and making strides to better himself, he found himself in love with the sport again. A year later, he was at Iowa shooting off the blocks while his team cheered him on.

He crossed that finish line, and in doing so not only solidified his status as a phenomenal runner but also proved his growth as a human being.

In crossing the finish line, he truly proved he was back. Nearly a month after the Iowa event, Thomas took first place in the 60-meter and 200-meter dash events at the OVC Indoor Championships.

To Thomas, track is more than meters. To him, it is leading by example. It is working hard every day while having fun with what you enjoy.

It is never giving up on yourself and constantly working toward improving. To Thomas, it is proving that through all the trials and tribulations, “we’re still here.” 


Nick Bays can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]