UW great Richard Thomas looking to shed pounds like he shed tacklers
By SHAWN SKAGER
Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter
September 21, 2011 · Updated 4:27 PM
Loser is not a description Richard Thomas is used to seeing attached to his name.
For most of his life – through a successful football career with the University of Washington that culminated with a year of pro ball with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, to life after football as a motivational speaker – success has been Thomas’ constant companion.
Now, he’s looking to become a loser by shedding nearly 100 pounds by Jan. 1, 2012 in Vision Quest Sports and Fitness’ Biggest Loser Challenge.
At one time, Thomas was the epitome of great shape. As a 5-foot-10, 208-pound fullback during his playing days, Thomas had no problem keeping weight off.
“I spent all my life trying to put on weight,” said the 39-year-old Thomas, now the general manager of Vision Quest in the Auburn SuperMall. “I’d eat four or five steaks at a sitting trying to pack weight on.”
That all changed after his playing career ended.
Following his stint in the NFL, Thomas and wife Christie decided to parlay their wealth and energy into a career helping others through Christian ministry and motivational speaking.
“When we decided to go into full-time ministry, my workouts started being replaced with service to others,” Thomas said. “And I went from working out five or six times a week to four … to three … to two … to one.”
Before he knew it, Thomas ballooned to 323 pounds.
Now at 273 pounds, Thomas is determined to hit his goal weight of 225. After all, Thomas is familiar with overcoming physical challenges. He was born in Los Angeles with two broken legs that formed to the shape of his mother’s womb.
“I had to wear braces on my legs until I was in the third grade,” Thomas explained. “The doctors, when I was born, in trying to console my mom, told her that I’d never play sports.”
The doctors were wrong. Not only did the braces straightened his legs, allowing Thomas to walk normally, they also strengthened them.
Soon after the braces came off, Thomas gravitated toward basketball, his first love, and developed his skills and athleticism.
But football eventually caught Thomas’ imagination.
A trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum for a UW-USC game with his father gave Thomas a glimpse into his future.
Walking to the game, Thomas turned to his dad and told him that someday he would be a Trojan.
“We sat down and started watching the game and this team on the field in the white and purple took a Trojan kickoff almost all the way back and scored three plays later,” Thomas recalled. “By the end of the game, the team in the white and purple won the game and I looked at (him) and said, ‘Daddy, what’s the name of that team?’ He said the Huskies and I said, ‘I’m not going to be a Trojan, I’m going to be a Husky.’ ”
Escaping gang-ridden South Central L.A., the family moved to Kent, where Thomas first suited up for football at Sequoia Junior High School. It was where Thomas met teammate Ernie Conwell.
“I remember walking up to the school, and the biggest human I’d ever seen in my life was there,” Thomas said. “He shook my hand and asked if I was there to play football. And I was too scared to say no. He became my best friend.”
Thomas and Conwell would blossom into stars at Kentwood High School and later, as Huskies.
After being a part of the Conquerors’ back-to-back second-place Kingbowl finishes in 1988 and 1989, Thomas accepted a scholarship to play for Don James at the UW.
“Those teams were really something special in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” Thomas said. “I was fortunate. When I was there we won three Pac-10 championships and that national championship.”
Although Thomas still wears that 1991 national championship ring, for many Husky fans he is best remembered for his role in the “Whammy in Miami,” where the 1994 Huskies broke the Hurricanes’ 58 home-game winning streak.
“The most vivid memories are from the preparation,” Thomas said. “When we were doing our warmups the day before the game, (Miami’s) Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis and The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) came by our practice, all fully dressed, chanting ‘hit or be hit.’ I remember looking around at the guys on my football team and their eyes were all as round as saucers.”
With Washington trailing 14-3 at halftime in the Orange Bowl, it appeared that the oddsmakers, who had tagged the Huskies as 14-point underdogs, may have been right. But just a few moments into the second half, magic happened when Thomas sparked a UW comeback with a 75-yard pass reception for a touchdown.
The Huskies posted 22 points in five minutes to overtake the Hurricanes and win the game, 38-20.
“We just believed in each other,” Thomas said. “It was one of those games where you just leave it all on the field. That plane ride home, which could have been miserable, was the greatest plane ride we’d ever been on. We were Huskies to the hilt that day. Pure joy.”
After graduating from the UW with degrees in history and sociology in 1995, Thomas played for the Ravens in their first season after moving from Cleveland.
“Just getting that opportunity was a joy,” he said. “But as an undersized fullback, you’ve got a battle on your hands. I separated both my shoulders early on and gritted my way through a season. It was a phenomenal experience.”
Following football, Thomas opened a new chapter as a minister and motivational speaker.
“I’d do school assemblies, workshops, churches, just sharing my faith in God and in people,” he said. “And just sharing my passion helping people reach their full potential.”
It was then that his weight began to climb. He had concerns about his health.
Less than a year ago, Thomas solicited the help of Vision Quest co-owner Chip Schwerzel, a friend he calls his lifesaver.
“He was brutally honest with me and said ‘Richard you are fat as blank and you’re going to die,’” Thomas said. “He had that look of concern in his eye. … I knew he was sincere.”
Thomas accepted Schwerzel’s help and took on the Vision Quest’s Biggest Loser Challenge. In 45 days, he shed 50 pounds.
To get there, Thomas works out five to six hours a week, addressing the “five components” of fitness.
“Cardiovascular, proper resistance training, food intake, supplementation and most important, personal training,” Thomas said. “I’ve really got a lot of personal assistance. I want that motivation, accountability and educational standpoint of someone helping me to reach those goals I’ve set.”
Even though he’s focused on helping himself get healthy, Thomas can’t help but reach out to help others.
“I invite anyone to come out, and I’ll personally go through a workout with them,” he said. “I want to help other people to reach their goals also, as I go through my journey. If they are a young person or someone fighting weight issues, I want to help out, touch bases with them and find out how we can support them.
“There are some real issues we need to look at as a society,” he said. “We’re going to end up harming ourselves if we don’t take responsibility.”
The "Whammy In Miami"
Contact Auburn Reporter Sports Reporter Shawn Skager at email@example.com or (253) 833-0218, ext. 5054.