Peyton Thomas

February 28, 2020

(Update: Peyton Thomas did not finish in the top three to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.)
Peyton Thomas juggles multiple roles – Ph.D. student, teaching assistant, research assistant, and, if all goes according to plan, U.S. Olympic marathon runner.
The former Baylor University track and cross-country runner participated in her first marathon in the December 2019 California International Marathon. Her time of 2:42:57 qualified Thomas for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29. More than 700 runners will compete for six spots on the U.S. team for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“The opportunity to run at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials is the biggest moment of my running career so far. I see it as a chance to prove to myself that I can do something big,” Thomas said.
To prepare, Thomas trained with UNCW alumna Erin Hogston ’02, who also qualified for the Olympic trials. Both women are members of the Without Limits running team in Wilmington. The Seahawks had to meet the two hour and forty-five minutes speed qualification to compete.
“I decided to go for the opportunity because, every day, I am surrounded by people pursuing and achieving great things, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, why not me?’”
Thomas is used to tackling challenges head-on. She was more than a year into her master’s program when her research project was destroyed during Hurricane Florence in 2018. With the help of her advisors and colleagues, Thomas was able to piece together a new project.  
“Truly the only way I could have overcome anything was because of the people around me and looking forward to the future,” she said. Thomas is studying muscle development under elevated ocean temperature scenarios in species such as juvenile elasmobranchs, which includes sharks, skates and rays.
“My lab uses particular animals as models to understand complex physiological processes and maybe provide insight into our own human physiology,” she added.
Thomas has always been interested in aquatic systems and fascinated by the natural world. “I am a fervent supporter of anything for the conservation of the environment and honestly, couldn't imagine myself working in anything other than a biology-related field,” she said.  
Thomas, a native of Roswell, GA, is considering the education field with a focus on community-level outreach after earning her Ph.D.

“I am interested in staying in the research world and working with multiple environmental organizations,” said Thomas, a recipient of the Owen Graham Kenan Fellowship Endowment in the Biology and Marine Biology Department. The scholarship was created by Mrs. Owen G. Kenan and her children in memory of her husband and their father, and is used to assist graduate students in the marine biology program.
“My dream job would be to be a professional runner and scientist – a traveling scientist of sorts,” she said. “It would be great to have a profession where I encourage other people to run and feel those same connections with the environment, providing self-discovery and reasoning to reduce our impact.”
-- Venita Jenkins