This past weekend, South Carolina State's 55-year-old running back Joe Thomas, Sr. made history by becoming the oldest Division I athlete to play in a collegiate game.
Against Savannah State, on Senior Day, at the first the first quarter, Thomas rushed for 3 yards on his only carry. While he made history and proved he wasn’t just our average Joe, his single carry was more than simply symbolic.
Joe is no stranger to adversity and has frequently seen the odds stacked against him. Thomas was born into poverty and had a hearing disorder until he was 17, when he was finally able to go to a doctor to have it corrected.
2012 was the year that Joe decided to attend college in hopes of attaining a steady job as a result. He chose South Carolina State, the same school that his son Joe Thomas, Jr. was attending. The father-son tandem had hopes of playing together but that was quickly derailed.
In 2013, he was involved in a car collision in which he was hit by a drunk driver. The accident resulted in the tear of his ACL and MCL. That same year, Thomas had to file for bankruptcy. The following year, Joe needed surgery to repair a nerve in his right leg. Once he became a member of the scout team in 2015, Joe would only practice on special teams and never saw contact. Without any petulance, he expressed his desire to prove himself to the coaching staff.
On Saturday, he saw his dream come to fruition. At a certain point in everyone’s life, we work tirelessly and feverishly to obtain a desire. For some, they may be working towards getting a home. Others may be working towards getting a degree.
When I graduated from college, it meant much more than simply a piece of paper with a qualification on it. It was representation of four years of diligence, sleepless nights, proofreading, repetition, and a hunger for more.
Being away from home was a challenge in itself, attempting to essentially learn a new landscape, new a city’s culture as well as collegiate culture. When I graduated, I remembered thinking about how fast four years went by and how the struggles I had experienced accelerated my maturation.
I also thought about the twenty-hour days and even the few times I was up for 40 hours on end without any sleep. It was all worth it. My degree, of course, was a paper of qualification, but it was also a certificate of poise, drive, and ambition.
That’s what makes a 55-year-old running back relatable to all of us. The ability to put your head down and trudge forward is often overlooked, but is without question reason to applaud.