For Ryan Thomas, the finish line of his high school career is in sight. The Albemarle senior already knows where his headed after high school. On Wednesday, he signed his letter of intent to run at Columbia University.
"They have one of the middle distance programs in the country for running," Thomas said of choosing Columbia over Princeton and Stanford. "They also have one of the best academic institutions in the country for what I want to study, in political science."
Thomas is one of the top middle distance runners in the state of Virginia. He is the reigning champion in the 1000 meters for indoor track and will look to defend his state title in the coming weeks. Thomas finished his senior season of cross country with a regional championship and a second place finish at the state championship. But excelling at middle or long distance running wasn't always his plan.
"I thought I was going to be a 400 meter runner," he says. "I thought I was going to be the next Jeremy Wariner, who was the 400 meter Olympic champion in 2004. Then I realized I didn't quite have the speed for it, but I had the discipline needed for distance running, and then I just started to flourish there."
"He has a natural talent and a natural inclination to work with the coaching staff, but he puts in a lot of hard work," adds Albemarle indoor track coach Brian Nagel. "He's one of the hardest working kids I've ever met."
Despite Thomas' many individual successes in his time as a Patriot, Nagel says the senior captain enjoys the team aspect of running more than anything else.
"If I gave him a choice between running an individual event this coming weekend at regionals or running in a team event on a relay, he would choose the relay," he says. "That's the kind of kid he is."
"There's nothing more fun than running a good relay," added Thomas.
"Sharing the excitement, the drive, the pain, sharing that pride and that satisfaction of a job well done with three other guys is much more satisfying than just a personal achievement."
Thomas will have a few opportunities left in both indoor and outdoor track to earn state titles before he heads off to Columbia, but he is also striving to reach some other goals before his high school career wraps up.
"I'd love to be able to bring home a national title or even just another school record," he says. "That would be great, considering that this school has had some great runners in the past."
With or without those school records, Nagel says Thomas has undoubtedly left his mark on the Albemarle track program.
"His legacy is not really just the great times that he's run, but the real legacy is the role model he's become for the students that will follow," he says. "He's a wonderful teammate, he's very supportive of his teammates. He's a great student athlete."
Albemarle isn’t the only place Thomas wants to leave a legacy.
He is looking into studying law or politics, so he can make an impact beyond the track.
"I think that both of those careers would enable me to impact a great deal of lives, especially politics, influencing public policy," he says. "There's no better way to change something than going to the top and doing it yourself."