Early on, Kelly Harmon saw her daughter display outstanding athleticism. That talent first showed on the track when Alexa Harmon-Thomas was 7 years old.
Harmon was coaching the sport and brought her daughter to practices. She didn't know if her daughter would like or be good in track, but the youngster excelled immediately.
Chalk it up to famous bloodlines. The daughter of former Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker, the late Derrick Thomas, has carved out an impressive track and field career at Lawrence Free State (Kan.)
- one that has gained worldwide notoriety.
Harmon met Thomas when she worked in the Chiefs' public relations
department. Thomas, who passed away shortly before his daughter's fourth
birthday after a car accident, was known for giving time and money to
youth. He left seven children behind (not with the same mothers), and Harmon-Thomas remains very close with several siblings, including brothers Derrion, Robert and Derrius.
she was young, the senior didn't want to know much about her father,
but has learned more in the last couple of years. Last year, NFL Films
produced a Thomas documentary, which helped Harmon-Thomas. At the Kansas
state meet last year, the public address announcer called her "Alexa
Harmon-Thomas, the daughter of Derrick Thomas."
"I am my own
person, but I also think that it's an incredible thing that he was my
father," Harmon-Thomas said. "I don't think it's a bad thing to be known
as his daughter, because he was a great person and an incredible
His daughter is an incredible athlete as well, and it was evident even during those days when she would attend the practices her mother was running.
At age 7, Harmon-Thomas finished fourth in long jump nationals. The next year, she won three gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter dashes and the long jump at the primary division of the National AAU Junior Olympics.
"I was like, ‘OK, I think I am pretty good at this,'" Harmon-Thomas said.
She eventually set a world age-group record in the 400 at 1 minute, 8.26 seconds, and broke the national mark in the long jump on a wind-aided attempt. Sports Illustrated's Faces In the Crowd mentioned Harmon-Thomas' feats and also her famous father.
The next year, Harmon-Thomas started as a multi-event athlete in an event that consisted of the 200, shot put and high jump. She eventually progressed to the pentathlon and heptathlon. Harmon-Thomas always remained happy and not stressed by the big moments. Her mother remembers her sitting next to the long jump pit picking dandelions when they called her name to jump.
Nearly a decade later, Harmon-Thomas is internationally known for her track success. In addition, she has kept the same bubbly, gregarious personality. Personal coach Gwen Wentland-Mikinski, a former United States indoor track champion, labels Harmon-Thomas as "fun with a splash of fire."
Last year, Harmon-Thomas earned three gold medals and a silver and led Free State to its first track championship. She competed at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine last summer, her biggest athletic achievement, and took 10th in the high jump and 16th in the heptathlon.
Harmon-Thomas has battled a foot problem this year, but ranks in the top 10 in Kansas history in multiple events, including second in the 300-meter hurdles (42.7), tied for fourth in the high jump (5 feet, 10.5 inches) and the all-time leader in heptathlon points (5,200), according to Kansas track historian Carol Swenson. Texas coach Mario Sategna told Wentland-Mikinski that Harmon-Thomas, a Longhorn signee, is the "Type of girl you would like to offer four scholarships to."
"The complete package, she is an individual who embodies a passion for learning," Wentland-Mikinski wrote in an email. "Academically, she challenges herself. Socially, she connects with all kinds of people, helping others and volunteering her time. She is very humble about her accomplishments. She is considerate and kind on one side and fierce and competitive when it comes to academics and athletics."
Harmon-Thomas has excelled in the classroom, maintaining an ‘A' average and collected a National Merit Semifinalist honor.
"I am most proud of her as a whole person," her mother said. "She really strives to be great in everything that she does. She works hard. She has an unbelievable work ethic. She is not satisfied unless she is the best that she can be in all areas of her life."
Harmon, who hasn't married and has no other kids, is very close with her daughter. Of the 13 seniors in the Lawrence Public Schools to earn National Merit honors, Harmon-Thomas was the only one with a single parent.
"We tell each other everything," Harmon-Thomas said. "We are so close. We are best friends and it's an incredible relationship. It's always been that way. She has done an incredible job, having to be both parents pretty much."
Harmon's parents live a block and a half away and she jokes that her daughter has three parents because of the grandparents' help. Harmon is the Kansas Girls' State Selection Chair for the Great Southwest Classic, a major summer meet, and makes the three-hour round trip when Harmon-Thomas works with Wentland-Mikinski in Manhattan, Kan.
"I often times don't get home until 10 o'clock at night," Harmon said. "Travel every weekend, and I still have all of the mom stuff to do. I still have to take care of the yard and the housework and pay the bills and there is not any 'me' time for sure, but that's OK because I am helping her chase her dreams, and she is doing a fantastic job. She is a great kid."
Harmon always emphasized schoolwork before sports with her daughter and had Harmon-Thomas in other activities. Harmon-Thomas played soccer and track for Free State in the spring of her freshman year, and then played club soccer in the fall the last two years.
Harmon-Thomas has always set high goals for her track career. At 14, in her first year of eligibility, she competed against high school and college athletes at junior nationals. She didn't win, but wanted to get used to performing against the best.
As a freshman, Harmon-Thomas took two golds and two silvers at the state meet. As a sophomore, she missed a couple weeks of school because of health issues, and sometimes worked with Free State track coach Jordan Rose, also a science teacher, at track meets to get caught up on school work. At the state meet, Harmon-Thomas clipped the second-to-last hurdle in the 100-meter hurdle prelims and dropped from first to last. But she still earned two second-place finishes and a third in her other events.
"We saw her strength starting to come out, kind of battling through some of the health issues … starting to see her real character," Rose said.
Harmon-Thomas started work with Wentland-Mikinski after her sophomore year, and has seen big improvements in technique and mentality. Wentland-Mikinski has focused on visualization and journaling during meets. Harmon-Thomas carries note cards with her to each event and uses trigger words to help performance.
"She is the most incredible coach that I have ever had," Harmon-Thomas said.
In Kansas, athletes can only do four events, but Harmon-Thomas competes in the heptathlon at major out-of-season meets. For heptathlon training, she normally has to work on javelin and shot put on her own, but has had some recent work at school practice because of the foot injury that has kept her from jumping.
Outside of high school, she does endurance work to prepare for the 200 and 800. Her Twitter handle is @HEPTastic
and her tagline is "Sometimes greatness can't fit into one event." It's greatness that's carried over into many areas of life – and is likely to continue at Texas, and, possibly, her eventual goal, the Olympics.
"For most people, they would look at them and they would be unachievable, but she sets her goals so high and often achieves them, which is fantastic," Harmon said. "She has always wanted to compete at the highest level, the biggest track meet, the biggest stage that she can possibly do."