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Super mom to 9 is super coach to Junior Olympians, college athletes

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Deborah Thomas keeps her foot on the accelerator.

She and her husband raised their four children, then became foster parents to five more. They planned to adopt them.

They were excelling, Thomas said of the kids.

So, in 2010, after a year of fostering them, Thomas became Yazmines, Nieasias, Briannas, Tyajas and Ayanies mom.

Deborah Thomas cheers on her team during practice at Spring Valley High School July 22, 2019. Thomas, a widow with 4 kids, adopted 5 kids and started a track with them in mind. It has Junior Olympic winners and collegiate athletes.

Her four other kids  three boys and a girl (the eldest now 40)  were so good at sports at Spring Valley High that they were recruited to play in college.

This time, though, its with Thomas in the dual role of mother and coach.

And not just coach to her five youngest children but to many others, some  like her kids  also getting college offers.

Thomas initially put her five adopted girls in basketball. But with their age range (the eldest, Yazmine, is 19, and the youngest, Ayanie, is 13), they were on multiple squads, making life difficult with varying practice and game schedules.

The kids also tried gymnastics but found that wasnt their sport.

Thomas thought of track. That morphed into starting her own track program.

Deborah Thomas cheers on her team during practice at Spring Valley High School July 22, 2019. Thomas, a widow with 4 kids, adopted 5 kids and started a track with them in mind. It has Junior Olympic winners and collegiate athletes.

I had five girls and wanted to give them something to do, she explained, noting the key was for them to be able to do something together.

Thomas was neither a track athlete nor coach. But she pushed forward.

She watched tape, sought advice and took USA Track & Field courses.

I just became very technical at teaching, she said.

In seven years, her club, called In Motion and based at Spring Valley High, has morphed into a go-to place for kids from 6 years old past high school.

About 30 now belong, although more would like to, she said.

But with only one other coach, Thomas is pretty much at the max.

She charges $150 per athlete for a twice-a-week program that runs, weather permitting, April into November.

Paying additional coaches isnt an option since the $150 goes in part toward things like discuses and javelins, which sometimes break.

And the fee isnt a hard number. Thomas takes installments and sometimes looks the other way when parents in her less-than-wealthy area simply cant pay.

Its her nature, said daughter Nieasia, 18, who will throw the javelin, shot put and discus next year for Dominican College, where shell major in psychology. And she really loves kids. She doesnt look at how expensive it is. She wants everyone to get better and to use track to get somewhere in life.

Thomas said more than one parent has issued the, Im-going-to-tell-coach-Deborah threat to a child not complying with directives.

They straighten right up, said Thomas, wholl keep kids out of practice or out of meets if they dont toe the line with her and at home.

The meets are places where kids learn how to compete and can be seen.

Deborah Thomas cheers on her team during practice at Spring Valley High School July 22, 2019. Thomas, a widow with 4 kids, adopted 5 kids and started a track with them in mind. It has Junior Olympic winners and collegiate athletes.

At the recent USA Track & Field Junior Olympic regional championships, In Motions Ghianna Smith won the 11-12-year-old girls javelin, breaking Tyajas meet mark with a throw topping 86 feet, 7 inches.

And Tyaja, 14, wholl be a throwing, hurdling, jumping freshman this coming school year at Spring Valley, broke the Northeast USATF regional javelin record for 13- and 14-year-old girls with a throw of 105-7.

Thirteen In Motion kids qualified for the July 22-28 national Junior Olympics. Thomas took a bunch to last years JOs but they were in North Carolina. This year, with California hosting, she has had to pass on them.

This area is really not wealthy enough for that, she said of the travel.

Instead, she found a strong meet in Pennsylvania for her team to compete.

Recent Ramapo High grad Anthony Harrison made last years North Carolina trip, winning the national Junior Olympic title in his age group in the discus.

He went on to become the second-best high school discus thrower ever in New York, the Section 1 record-holder and state champion this spring.

I firmly believe (the program) helps, especially younger kids, develop their talent, said Harrison, who trained with In Motion after his sophomore and junior years at Ramapo and wholl throw on scholarship this coming year for Georgias Kennesaw State. To go to the summer program and train with Coach Deborah allows them to blossom and to make a name in track. And, for high school students, its a great way to try to get better.

Thomass athletes have included throwers, sprinters, hurdlers, long jumpers and a racewalker. But shes open to include middle-distance runners and other track & field athletes.

Stephane Fortune, a 2017 Spring Valley grad, spent the summer after his senior year and summer after his freshman year at St. Thomas Aquinas competing for In Motion in the hurdles and long jump. His younger brother, Brian, a Spring Valley shot and discus thrower, is with the club.

I wish Id gotten into it in middle school because I feel like I would have gotten way better in high school, Fortune said, adding the club helps kids stay in the track mindset throughout the year.

Thomas, a secretary at East Ramapos Summit Park Elementary School in New City,  wants to make her program year-round and hopes a local school will allocate gym space for that to happen.

Nieasia is on board with that and with the club growing.

I would like to see more kids involved. It keeps them out of trouble and on the right path to graduate and to go to college, she said.

Thomas may have started the club with Nieasia and Nieasias sisters in mind, but even after Ayanie graduates, chances seem good shell still be at Spring Valley High, helping kids get what her kids and others have gotten from track & field.

After all, she noted, she has two granddaughters. Theyre 3 and 5 years old.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News:Super mom to 9 is super coach to Junior Olympians, college athletes