Former Olympic hurdler Eric Thomas died suddenly on Friday, according to news reports.
Thomas, 49, passed away in Houston, the Nacogdoches, Texas, Daily Sentinel reported.
No cause of death was given, but friends said he is believed to have suffered a blood clot following recent hip replacement surgery, according to the report.
Thomas, a 1992 graduate of Garrison High School in Garrison, Texas, represented the United States at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, according to KTRE-TV in Lufkin, Texas. He ran the 400-meter hurdles and finished in the top 15.
His biography on Champion-Trainers.com said Thomas was only 6 years old when his father died, leaving his mother to raise him and five siblings on her own.
“His father’s heart attack also led the track star to a life of promoting health,” the Daily Sentinel reported. “He founded the Hurdling Over Obesity and Diabetes for Health program and The Eric Thomas Foundation, which provides support for underprivileged youth.”
Thomas credited sports with keeping him and his older brother from getting into trouble, unlike some of their classmates, according to his Champion-Trainers.com biography.
“As a middle school student, he was the team manager for various sports at the local high school. The opportunity allowed him to learn how to interact with coaches and older athletes. Filling up water bottles, joining huddles, and listening taught him numerous lessons at the early stages of his athletic career,” according to that account.
Thomas played football, basketball, track and baseball in high school, and earned a football and track scholarship to Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas, a school that had produced over 20 Olympians.
During his freshman year, he was the fastest hurdler in the nation, the Daily Sentinel reported.
At that time, Thomas told the outlet, “My coach sat me down and told me I could probably be an Olympic athlete.”
In addition to making the Olympic team in 2000, he was also an alternate on the 1996 Olympic team. He won silver medals in the 1999 and 2003 Pan-American Games.
#RIP Eric Thomas 🇺🇸🏃♂️(49)
🥈 1999 & 2003 Pan-American. 400m hurdles pic.twitter.com/0vrFXhm1cS
— Sporting Obituaries (@SportIconObit) January 1, 2023
“For eight years of his 10-year professional career, Eric was ranked in the top 10 Track & Field athletes in the world,” his biography said.
Retired Daily Sentinel sports editor Kevin Gore said Thomas “was a master of track and he excelled at what he wanted to master and excel at.”
“He maximized his God-given ability and talents. He got every drop out,” Gore said.
People in Thomas’ small hometown were shocked and grief-stricken to learn of the loss of what KTRE called “one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of Garrison.”
“Eric truly touched a lot of people here in Garrison,” said Mayor Keith Yarbrough, according to the TV news outlet.
“You know, he went off as a pro track athlete and he would often come back home and give back to Garrison in many different ways. He had a lot of track camps set up at the high school where he would help the children and teach them different methods and stuff about running track.
“And he was just an all-around great guy and a good person to know.”