NORMAN – It would be difficult for Karrie Thomas to avoid walking past her old high school when she returns home to South Florida.
The school, the site of a shooting in 2018, is only minutes from where Thomas grew up and where his family still lives.
But when she returns, the super senior gymnast from OU makes a point of getting ahead.
âI’m trying to pass because I want to do it,â said Thomas, entering his fifth college season on Sunday when the No.3 Sooners face No.6 Alabama at Lloyd Noble Center.
âBecause I feel like I owe it to them, because it’s difficult for the community in particular, and I wouldn’t want to go through this for myself or for my children. I couldn’t imagine if my mother had been there. So I feel like I have to do it for them and live my life to the fullest because it is carried away so quickly.
Thomas was supposed to be nearing the end of his senior year in February 2018, but made the decision to finish high school earlier, to begin his college career in Maryland.
So instead of being in class in Parkland, Fla., Thomas was instead in his dormitory in College Park, Maryland on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day 2018 when his phone started to vibrate with text messages. in a family group message.
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At first Thomas paid little attention to it. But after a flurry of messages kept his phone running, Thomas took a peek.
She was horrified to learn what was going on at her high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She took to social media, which was saturated with posts about what was going on in the hallways that Thomas knew so well.
An armed man entered the school and opened fire, killing 14 students and three staff, injuring 17 other students and staff and leaving an indelible mark on everyone involved.
Thomas started texting his friends who were at school.
âI was in shock,â she said. “You wouldn’t expect this to happen at your high school.”
Thomas went to train that day as the news spread far beyond the Parkland area.
“It was obviously very difficult for me because our coach started talking about it,” said Thomas. âHe was very understanding, for which I am very grateful. He kind of let me have my day.
The remainder of the season, Thomas competed with a “17” on his hand to honor those who were killed.
âIt’s just hard to realize that things can happen so close to home and how grateful we have to be every day,â said Thomas. âThat’s what opened my eyes. I’m so thankful that I left early and didn’t have to go through this, but I’m also connected in a still way because that’s where I graduated from.
After this season, Thomas wanted more of herself than she thought she would get and that she would get in Maryland, so she decided to transfer.
She had teamed up with OU’s Jade Degouveia during their elite gymnast career in Florida, and Degouveia ultimately helped connect Thomas and Sooners’ trainer KJ Kindler.
Shortly after arriving in Norman, Thomas got in the car with then first-year student Olivia Trautman to buy some supplies for their dorm when “Speechless” went on the radio.
âIt was my favorite song at the time,â Trautman said. “And we were singing so loud, at the top of our lungs over there in the car and I knew right away that our personalities clicked and from there (we were friends).”
Trautman and Thomas remain close friends and roommates.
It took a while before the couple opened up about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.
âIt was definitely a tough conversation to have, but it kind of follows the motto, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ Trautman said. âGod put her in a position where she wasn’t meant to be there. â¦ It was definitely a learning time for her not to take anything for granted.
Thomas’ gesture paid off. She was part of the U.S. first all-team all-star in 2019, helping the Sooners win a national title.
Last season, she won the Big 12 Event Specialist of the Year and was a member of America’s second all-star team on beam, though her season ended with an injury in the regional final.
Thomas had decided to return for 2022 before the start of last season.
âI’m just in love with OU and their culture, the tradition,â Thomas said. “So I had to take it because this is the place I love and I only get it one more time.”
But the move took on even greater significance after Thomas’ injury.
She had hip surgery shortly after last season and went to work in rehab.
“I had never had an operation before,” said Thomas. âSo I didn’t know what it was like. It was a lot different from what I expected. â¦ But once I got to a certain point, it’s been easy since then. I regained all my flexibility and my strength.
No. 3 OR vs. No. 6 Alabama
How to watch: 1:45 p.m. Sunday at Lloyd Noble Center (ESPN)
Notable: The Sooners are 115-4 at Lloyd Noble Center under KJ Kindler and show up for Sunday’s opener after scoring 39 straight home wins dating back to 2014.â¦ The game was originally scheduled for 11:45 but fell back to accommodate a higher profile TV spot. â¦ OU is 20-10 against Alabama, with 16 straight wins. That includes two in the playoffs last year, once in Tuscaloosa Regional and another in the NCAA semifinals.