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Posted: Feb 25, 6:22p ET | Updated: Feb 25, 6:51p ET

Debi Thomas: From skater to doctor

Debi Thomas is now a doctor in Terre Haute, Indiana
Debi Thomas is now a doctor in Terre Haute, Indiana

Terre Haute - Debi Thomas was the first African-American to win a medal in the Winter Games. Now she's living a different kind of dream in Indiana.

Eyewitness News sat down with 1988 bronze medal winner to talk about her life since the Olympics and the career path that landed her in Terre Haute.

She was a star on ice. By the age of 20, Thomas was a world and two-time national champion who in 1988 created a buzz in Calgary.

"My plan was to skate the performance of my life," she said.

What happened at those Winter Games was indeed an upset for US hopeful Thomas, whose uncharacteristically flawed performance cost her the gold. Although she took home the bronze, becoming the first black Olympian to win a medal in the winter games, more than twenty years later, there is a hint of regret.

"I think the reason it's hard for me in Calgary is I know I didn't do my best," she said.

For someone who strives for perfection, a difficult lesson. But like a true champion, she learned from her mistakes.

"I want people to know when I'm taking care of them I'll give it all that I've got," she said.

At the same time she trained on the ice, Thomas studied for her other lifelong dream.

"I wanted to be a doctor since I was five," she said.

Now an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Debi Thomas took up practice in Terre Haute, Indiana last September.

A practice in Champaign, Illinois didn't work out and the conditions of a non-compete contract brought Dr. Thomas here. While she still lives in Champaign, she says when it comes to work, she plans to stay in Terre Haute.

"It just happens to be here and I just love what they're doing here," she said.

Far from Olympic glory, but just as rewarding.

"Patients just feel better if they know that you care about what's important to them," she said.

What's important to her may have changed, but not her competitive spirit. Thomas just returned from a second trip to Canada for the Olympic games.

"It was great just to see people go out there and perform under pressure and deliver those gold medal performances," said Thomas. "We just had the time of our lives. It was fun."

She admits she wishes she'd known at 20 what she knows at 42: "Just because you didn't start out perfect doesn't mean you can't have an excellent result in the end."

Dr. Thomas says she seriously considered a run for the Olympic bobsled team in Salt Lake City in 2002. She says her next goal as a surgeon is to work with NASA.

Life, like the Olympics, is what you make of it, and Debi Thomas continues to strive for a personal best.

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