AMES — Iowa State All-American distance runner Thomas Pollard’s pulse quickens and his heart rate goes up. He runs his race calmly, almost without a thought in his mind. He’s simply moving his body at an elite pace — and enjoying each step as he narrows his sights on a top finish.
“I definitely would call it like a flow state,” said Pollard, who hopes to win his first 5,000-meters title at the Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championship, which runs Friday through Sunday at Lubbock, Texas. “Finding that balance of zoning out but zoning in.”
Pollard’s seven-year Cyclone career has definitely ebbed as well as flowed. In January of 2018 he announced that he’d been suffering from histoplasmosis, which affected his heart and lungs, and forced him to obtain a medical redshirt. The painful setback nonetheless set the stage for an impressive rebuild that could culminate in a long-sought, top-of-the-podium moment.
“I think Thomas’s perseverance or resilience is probably second to anybody that we’ve ever had on our team,” ISU’s director of track and field/cross country Jeremy Sudbury said. “And (he) had that medical setback, which involved his lungs and his heart, and it actually took quite a few doctors to initially diagnose it. (He) had to go to (the) Mayo (Clinic in Rochester, Minn.) and have a procedure done. So that would probably taken out, I would say, over half the runners that had to go through something like that.”
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Not Pollard, whose father, Jamie, is ISU’s director of athletics.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do what I’ve done over the last year without going through that experience,” said Pollard, who has already earned degrees in supply chain management and statistics, as well as a master’s degree in information systems. “I think just mentally, physically and emotionally, I think I’ve really grown as a person and matured through that experience. I’ve just gained a better perspective for how unique this opportunity is, how precious it is, (and) how quickly it can be taken away. And I think when you go into competitions with that sort of mindset, that sort of approach, it just makes training easier, and I think you’re better for it.”
Pollard was named the Big 12’s cross country scholar-athlete of the year in 2019 and attained All-American honors in cross country in 2021. His time at ISU is winding down, but he feels like he’s just getting started — and truly in “flow” as the postseason swings into view.
“This whole year has just been a blast,” Pollard said. “Working with the coaches, the guys on the team, I’m so thankful that I got to come back for a seventh year. Just grateful for the opportunity and really enjoying making the most of it.”