In 2010, a middle-school girl on a bike kept showing up to Pam Gainey’s summer workouts.
The longtime Rocky Mount High basketball coach’s summer practices aren’t exactly designed for enjoyment, yet, without fail, this girl on a bike kept showing up and harassing everybody with her tireless defensive energy. If it rained, she was there.
If it was scorching hot, she was there.
If the Gryphons had any gathering of any kind – early or late, light or dark – Gainey knew that bike would come down South Tillery Street.
The girl was named Takeyra Thomas, and Gainey had only the first glimpse of Thomas’ commitment to preparation.
“And she didn’t live close by (to the school),” Gainey said. “But she still didn’t miss. She was there every day, no matter what.”
Regardless of the sport, the girl affectionately known as “TT” ended up as one of the more versatile athletes in the state by the time she finished high school.
Another complete showing earned Thomas the 2014 Telegram All-Area Girls’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year, her second in a row.
Anybody who hangs around the school has heard stories about TT, and many of them have seen one with their own eyes.
Thomas, all 140-something pounds of her, steps up to squat rack and puts up 285 pounds. Then she’ll slide right into power cleans and finish 200 pounds, as wide-eyed football players laugh in disbelief.
“I like when everybody’s in there, especially when we work out with the boys,” Thomas said. “Some of them come over and they’re like, ‘I can’t believe she did that. I can’t even do that!’ I just laugh.”
Exhausting preparation just isn’t much of a chore to Thomas. She likes the work many other athletes dread, and it’s a nonstop process.
Thomas’ mother, Yolanda Lane-Thomas, saved her money to take the family on an all-out vacation to Disney World.
It was the everything vacation: the amusement parks, the sun, the pool, the loaded suite. Much to her annoyance, her daughter wasn’t very interested in any of it. Thomas instead found a nearby track and started to run laps.
It touched her mother’s last nerve, but Thomas couldn’t be still for that long.
“I didn’t want to sit around in the room and be all fat and stuff,” Thomas said. “I still had to work out. I couldn’t go a week. That’s too long.”
All the thankless work Thomas does without question paid off as a senior. She was the Big East Conference’s long jump champion and its overall Girls’ Athlete of the Year. She scored three top-four finishes at the NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional – which included running on the Gryphons’ 4x200 relay team, which took first place – and she made it to the finals of three events at the state meet.
There is a popular saying among track enthusiasts that “our sport is your sport’s punishment.” For Rocky Mount girls’ track coach Keith Barnes, that certainly applied to a girl who worked without being asked. When it came time for Barnes to decide Thomas’ events, he looked to where the Gryphons were weakest, because Thomas could do just about anything he needed.
“It really wasn’t based on what she can do; it was squarely based around what other people can’t do,” Barnes said. “I could’ve put her anywhere.”
In Thomas’ mind, anything that improves her in the long run is worth it. When she plays pick-up basketball at the park, she makes sure the boys on the other team try to block her shot. She wants no mercy because she’s a girl.
Gainey and Thomas once found themselves as the only two remaining in the Rocky Mount gym, so Gainey, a former basketball player at East Carolina, suggested a game of one-on-one.
Thomas, the defensive pest that she is, even frustrated her coach, who said she “worked a little harder than she anticipated.”
It wasn’t much of surprise to Rocky Mount’s coaches that accolades came to Thomas in high school.
For four years, everybody knew where to find TT.
“I always know that when I go in the gym, whether it’s for practice, workouts, what have you – if she wasn’t there, she didn’t have a ride or there was car trouble,” Gainey said. “When you have kids like that, it makes your job much easier.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com