Talk about an overachiever and beating the odds — Roy Thomas was only 25, in the military and in the prime of his life when he was involved in a horrific car accident. He was a passenger in a vehicle when the driver lost control and smashed into an oncoming car. The entire right side of Roy’s body was severely injured. He sustained a collarbone injury and 21 breaks in his leg. Roy also suffered from a broken hip, femur, hand, foot, ankle, arm, and ribs. Six doctors informed the then young athlete that he might never walk again or would wind up having a very severe limp. After being hospitalized for two and a half months, Roy was released, and despite the grim news, he was determined to defy the odds stacked against him.
The Ohio resident sported various casts, and they each came off at different times. During his eighth month post the accident, and with a few more of the casts having been removed, Roy was able to use an Airdyne bike to try and gain mobility on his right side. A little over a year after the accident, all of the casts were gone and Roy was even more determined than ever to remain firmly planted on his path towards self-rehabilitation.
At about 18 months post the accident, Roy was up and walking again, unassisted because he focused on his long-term goals of recovery.
After making a full recovery, Roy rode cross-country twice on his bicycle. He then went on to become a Natural Master Pro Bodybuilder and is now a personal trainer at Mi Gym in Columbiana, OH.
It’s been over 30 years since the car crash, and Roy has continued on his path towards living his very best life.
Roy, who is one of seven siblings, turns 57-years-young this month. The goal-setter, who at age 19 was encouraged to write down what he had wanted to accomplish during his life, has aced 189 of his 287 goals thus far. Roy’s profound story of courage and incredible perseverance in overcoming adversity to continue to reach his goals is one that will inspire and warm 50BOLDer’s hearts.
50BOLD: Roy, tell me a little bit about your background, family life.
Roy: There are seven of us – four boys and three girls. I basically had a normal family life. My mom raised us. We learned a lot about balance from my mother as far as what’s right and what’s wrong. My siblings and I really have different personalities. I’m the carefree one, you know, able to do things on my own.
50BOLD: Have you been athletic all of your life? And when did you start getting into sports?
Roy: I was pretty athletic growing up. I like to run. I started to get into sports at around the 8th grade when I began wrestling because I was too short for basketball. I found out that I was very strong pound for pound. Going into 9th grade, I wrestled on the varsity team. I also ran track and played football too. I was the captain of my track, football and wrestling teams during my junior and senior years.
50BOLD: You majored in exercise science in college, right?
Roy: When I attended Youngstown State University, I majored in military science. I also majored in exercise science because keeping myself in shape makes me feel good; it’s euphoric.
One of the philosophies I like and live by is: ‘If someone else can do it, then, I can do it too.’
50BOLD: I like your philosophy! Ok, so what exactly is military science?
Roy: Military science studies the causes and tactical principles of warfare.
50BOLD: Now, let’s discuss the car accident. Did it occur while you were still in the military?
Roy: Yes, when the car crash took place, I was still in the army.
50BOLD: Were you driving the vehicle in question?
Roy: No, I was a passenger in the vehicle. The driver actually tried to pass a semi-trailer truck. We were going approximately 70 miles per hour. When the driver passed the semi-trailer truck, we veered over into a lane where there was another car traveling about 65 miles per hour. Suddenly, the other vehicle struck the passenger side of our car.
At the time of the accident, I was a master fitness trainer and had just broken a record. I was also attending a U.S. Army nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare school and all that I was involved in was going down a tube as a result of the accident.
The crash pretty much crushed everything on the right side of my body—ankle, foot, fibula and femur was crushed in about eight places. I ended up having 21 breaks in my right leg. My hip was badly injured. I broke ribs. I had a lot of internal injuries. My right arm, elbow, and hand were crushed. I sustained an injury to my collarbone. I had a concussion for nearly a week and was knocked out from the pain medications that were administered to me.
My recovery took approximately a year and two weeks. During the entire recuperative period, I had some type of body cast, arm cast, leg cast or an ankle cast on. I had six physicians who told me I might never walk again, or would wind up with a severe limp. They all agreed that the life I had once known would never be the same. After listening to these doctors telling me this grim news over the course of a few days, I remember telling the head one, ‘Look, you do what you do best and just put me back together, then let me handle the rest of my life!’
50BOLD: How did you feel upon hearing that you might never walk again? What made you hold on to the determination it took to defy those doctors?
Roy: I just never allowed any negative thoughts to cross my mind!
50BOLD: Wow! How long were you in the hospital? And can you elaborate on your recovery process?
Roy: I was in the hospital for 2-1/2 months and then I was released. I was placed in various body casts for a year and 2 weeks.
50BOLD: So you were immobile and had to stay home?
Roy: I had to move back home to my mom’s house and for the most part, stayed in my room.
50BOLD: Were you in a wheelchair? How did you get around?
Roy: I was in bed most of the time and didn’t have a wheelchair very often.
50BOLD: Really! For a whole year you were basically in bed?
Roy: I was in bed for about eight months. But afterward, I began to put my athletic background to good use. Remember, I studied exercise science and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Well, you have to move! You have to move!’
The doctors advised me not to do anything for eight months and I listened to them at first. Afterwards, I took matters into my own hands and began exercising. I would have to prop up my right foot and prop up my right arm because I really couldn’t move them. I could, however, exercise the left side of my body so I began using an Airdyne bicycle to do so.
I went to Bethesda, Maryland once a month for a checkup. After I began exercising, the doctors told me they were starting to see improvements. I was kind of upset with my doctors because they had advised me to not do anything. I knew that I had to keep moving and getting that circulation going. I never said anything to the doctors about my regimen. I just kept exercising and a couple of months later, one of my casts were removed.
All I did was exercise the left side of my body. As I exercised my left arm, my right arm began getting better. As I exercised my left leg, my right leg began improving.
50BOLD: How fascinating! Did you handle all the physical therapy yourself or go to a therapist?
Roy: I did everything! The Army showed me how to get around on crutches and how to move if I needed to get in and out of bed. Yes, I had to do all of my own therapy, every bit of it.
50BOLD: So Roy, you had to learn how to walk all over again?
Roy: It took me six months to learn how to walk because my leg had atrophied due to non-use. My arm had also atrophied quite a bit for the same reason as my leg.
My crushed right leg was 2-1/2 inches smaller than my left leg in circumference. Even though the doctors told me I would never walk again, I jokingly thought, they never said I couldn’t ride a bike. A few years after I began to recover and was doing very well, I became a personal trainer. I was going to prove that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
Well, I ended up traveling with a group of cyclists. I rode my bike across the country from Anacortes, Washington to Washington, D.C.; this was the first time I’d traveled across the country. And then, I cycled from Ashtabula, Ohio, along the Lake Erie coastline down to New Orleans.
50BOLD: How long did it take you to complete the Anacortes to D.C. trip?
Roy: I traveled nearly 150 miles every day and the trip took 30 days to complete.
50BOLD: Incredible! Were you fully recovered by then?
Roy: Yes, I had basically recovered by the time I made the trip.
50BOLD: And you are a master pro bodybuilder in three organizations?
Roy: Bodybuilding had been my first love ever since the age of 14. Danny Wells, a friend of mine, and I were like 98 pounds when we began lifting. I also began wrestling and getting into sports at around this time but at some point, my interest went elsewhere.
I think I let 25 years go by before I took an interest in bodybuilding again. I attended a bodybuilding show and there was a female on stage, who had won a competition in her division.
The woman was 51-years-old and was able to beat competitors who were much younger. She looked incredible. As I told you before, if someone else can do it, I can do it! So I received inspiration from the competition and began bodybuilding again. I was 48-years-old. I was able to transform my body. I have won 27 of the 31 competitions I’ve been in for my weight class or age group. I also received a pro card.
50BOLD: What’s a pro card?
Roy: A pro card means that a pro bodybuilder has beaten everyone else they’ve competed against. I have a natural pro card which means I have not used steroids to enhance myself.
50BOLD: What are you doing currently?
Roy: I am a personal trainer at Mi Gym and have quite a number of clients. The gym is located in Columbiana and is owned by Kelly Pavlik, a world champion middleweight boxer from Youngstown, Ohio. Kelly wanted a workout place and a friend of ours trained us both. The friend got sick and had to sell his gym. Kelly bought it and I was hired to help him manage it.
50BOLD: And do you train folks all across the board age-wise?
Roy: Yes, but I specialize in high school and athletic jump training.
50BOLD: Ok, what’s jump training?
Roy: I teach them how to jump higher.
Roy: I train a lot of basketball players and bodybuilders.
50BOLD: With such an inspiring story, do you have any motivational speaking plans?
Roy: Yes, I did have motivational speaking plans for a long time. I’ve actually been approached to do one of those influential Ted Talks videos. I may do one next year. I’ve been in Toastmasters International and have won Table Topics for various districts.
50BOLD: What’s next for Roy Thomas?
Roy: I want to continue doing personal training. I also want to cycle across the country again; this is something I really enjoyed doing. Bodybuilding is also a part of my plan. As a result of the accident, I had to get ankle replacement because it wore out. Most people have knee replacement, and I had ankle replacement. And right now, my ankle is feeling phenomenal so it is not getting in the way of any plans!
50BOLD: When Roy Thomas looks in the mirror whom does he see now?
Roy: Well, I see someone who is still a work in progress. I will continue to work on Roy. No matter how old I get, I want to still keep learning and still keep doing.
50BOLD: Roy, how would you like to be remembered?
Roy: I’d like to be remembered as a fun, loving, and selfless guy who lived his life to the very, very fullest.
50BOLD: Well, amen to that!