After spending his collegiate years – and then some – in the city, 2012 alumnus Ben Thomas is living in the sticks.
A native of Hanover, Pa., the former Owl cross country and track & field runner is back at school, this time at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va., taking part in a three-year doctoral physical therapy program.
Having grown up in a suburban setting much like that of his current dwelling, Thomas said the move back to a small-town atmosphere after spending five years in North Philadelphia has been significant.
“It’s definitely slower,” Thomas said. “It’s a change of pace and it’s definitely taken some getting used to. You can’t walk anywhere here. [In Philadelphia] I would just walk and bike or take the subway everywhere and you didn’t need a car. I miss that. Like right now, I’m at the grocery store and it took 15 minutes to drive here.”
“People are friendly here,” Thomas said. “You know, it’s the South.”
Thomas’ story is similar to many graduates who competed in collegiate athletics – his four-year degree didn’t land him the job he desires. NCAA President Mark Emmert visited Main Campus last week, where he addressed concerns on whether universities sufficiently prepare their student-athletes for careers outside of sports. Emmert said he worries about student-athletes preparing for life after college.
“At the university level and the national level, we need to tell the message more and more of the skills someone develops as an athlete,” Emmert said. “We need to work harder with our student-athletes to make sure they have the life skills they need to be successful.”
Thomas enrolled at Temple and joined the men’s cross country country and track & field program in fall 2008 and contributed as one of the Owls’ core distance runners in the course of a four-year career.
“He was probably one of the most hardworking kids that we had,” Matt Jelley, the Owls’ distance coach from 2007-12, said. “He was a real high-mileage kid and he just put a lot of time and a lot of work. He would always do what you’d ask him to do and you can’t ask more than that as a coach.”
“He was a natural leader and you didn’t have to worry about if Ben was doing his work or anything like that,” Jelley added. “He was just one of those guys that did everything you needed him to do.”
After he completed his degree at Temple, Thomas took a year off from school and worked at Fairmount Running Company at 20th Street and Fairmount Avenue while still living near his alma mater.
The 23-year-old majored in kinesiology at Temple and said he always knew he’d want to pursue physical therapy after his career on North Broad.
“There’s not much you can really do with just a bachelor’s in kinesiology, so I knew I’d have to go to grad school and that’s where I am now,” Thomas said. “I wanted to use my degree as a springboard to something else, and I knew I was going to go on to physical therapy. The kinesiology program definitely gave me the framework to be able to think in terms of physical therapy. That degree gave me something of an edge over kids that go here.”
The fact that Center City sits a couple of miles away from Main Campus and that the university lies in a diverse urban atmosphere played a major role in preparing Thomas for life after his undergraduate years, he said.
“The thing with Temple, the city and just the kind of people you interact with on a daily basis, everybody’s so different,” Thomas said. “That’s a huge part of it and it really prepares you for anything you’re going to do for the rest of your life. In that sense especially, it really prepares you really well.”
Although Jelley is more than a year removed from his tenure at Temple, he still remembers being blown away by the TECH Center as he used to show it off to athletes he was trying to recruit.
“Temple definitely puts a lot into their resources to give students an advantage,” Jelley said. “I graduated [from Clemson] in 1996 and there’s so much more that they have to make sure students are successful now that wasn’t there before. When the school puts in the resources and makes sure that they have what they need, you get a better product. Temple definitely does that.”
Now in his first year at Lynchburg, Thomas said he doesn’t mind being a student again, despite falling victim to a common detriment of college life.
“It’s cool, but of course I don’t have any money,” Thomas said. “It’s cool going to school and talking about things you’re interested in and hearing things that other people are interested in as well. That’s cool, but it would be nice having money, of course. Not graduating here until 2016 and not having a positive cash flow until I’m 26, that’s not great to think about. But I don’t mind the lifestyle right now at all, though. I like it.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @daParent93.