Exercise as Medicine – Essence Thomas

When Essence Thomas, ’20, arrived at Meredith, she had little interest in running track. She came out of high school with a hamstring injury and feeling somewhat burned out. But after talking with the track coach, she reconsidered her options.

“My coach said she was willing to work with me, to get me PT for my injury, and told me she understood I was here for my academics,” Essence said. “My coach helped me excel. When I initially struggled academically, she worked with me. The person I was came before being an athlete or a student.”

Essence’s work with her coach paid off. In 2018 Meredith’s relatively new track and field team attended their first DIII conference in 30 years. And Essence medaled, taking third place in the 400 meter.

“That was a great accomplishment, especially because 400 isn’t even my best event,” she said. “The quality training I had really helped me out.”

Although Essence has enjoyed her experiences as an Avenging Angel, her most significant accomplishments have happened off the track.

An exercise and sports science (ESS) major, she is conducting research in her field of study. She is currently exploring creatine supplementation in female athletes and how it affects muscular endurance. Creatine is a protein that’s used in energy consumption.

Essence observed that working on her research draws on both her creativity and resilience.

“Much of the research we have was conducted on middle-aged white men,” she said. “I’m excited to create something original that can be used in the field.”

She noted that research requires resilience because it’s ongoing, typically involves setbacks and challenges, and may not always be conclusive – but to Essence, that’s a plus.

“The greatest thing about research is that there are always more questions you can ask – there’s never really an end to it.”

Resilience has been key to Essence’s success at Meredith. Originally she planned to study biology, with a pre-med focus. She found herself struggling in one of her classes and not enjoying her studies the way she thought she would. On the advice of a friend she took an ESS class with her current academic advisor, Sharon Malley, who encouraged her to consider majoring in ESS given her interest in anatomy and sports.

Essence now has plans to become a physical therapist with the armed services, a career path that was inspired by seeing her father cope with injuries resulting from his military service.

“Exercise is a medicine. I want to be able to provide a medical alternative for people who are in pain or struggling – especially veterans like my dad.”

She credits Meredith’s supportive environment with helping her grow as a leader and expand her sense of self. That support began as a first-year student when she attended the Multicultural Summer Symposium and continued through her involvement with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, where she learned how to mentor other students. She found the women’s college environment also contributed to her growth.

“Being here at Meredith helped me see that I’m not a label. That’s what I love about a women’s college – they help you see beyond yourself.”

After graduation, Essence plans to join the Air Force and pursue her master’s degree in physical therapy. She is confident she’ll succeed, in part because of the strengths she’s developed in college.

“The family dynamic at Meredith is what makes it so strong. The genuine care of the professors, my friends – they invest in you little by little to make you the person that you are. No matter where I go, I will always have this education and the strengths I didn’t even know I had to use out in the real world,” she concluded. “Coming here was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself.”