With apologies to the boss, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Thomas was born to run. Small and slight or “bony” as he recalls himself as a runner, Thomas out performed the competition as one of the great distance runners in Glendale College history. He had one simple goal in mind which he explains with these words, “I just ran as hard as I could for as long as I could and hoped that no one would catch up with me.’’
Not many runners did, as his list of accomplishments reads like a laundry list of first place finishes and best time performances. He still holds the school record at Glendale in the three-mile run and is the only athlete to lead his teams to state championships in two different sports. He was the top runner for both the 1974 state championship cross country team and a top distance runner for the 1975 men’s track team that won the state crown.
While Thomas’ accomplishments wearing a Vaquero uniform would be more than enough to warrant his induction into the hall of fame, the fact that he won the World Junior Cross Country Championship in 1975 makes him a unanimous choice. Thomas was just 19 years old when he made that fateful trip to Rabat, Morocco.
According to Thomas, “It was a dream of mine just to compete in a meet like that. Winning it was something altogether different. I was just praying that no one would catch me.’’ Thomas won the 4.8 mile race in 20:59.4, almost 19 seconds ahead of the second place competitor. Incredibly, just two weeks before the World Junior Meet, he won the junior trials race, setting a national junior college outdoor three-mile record of 13:36.4. This race culminated a season in which he finished 25th in the 1974 AAU championships.
Catch him if you can. That was really the mantra of any runner that faced Thomas during his glory days at Glendale High and Glendale College. His two-mile record of 9:06.3 that he set as a Glendale High senior in 1974 still stands as does his two and three mile marks set as a Vaquero in 1975. Those times are 8:57.4 and 13:36.4 respectively.
Thomas recalled that the year he spent at Glendale College in 1974-75 was probably the best of his life as a runner because of both the coaching and success of the teams. He recalls that, “I was very fortunate to have great coaches at Glendale High like Jim Jordan and John Barnes that really helped mold me as a runner. But the team at GCC got together the summer before school started in 1974 and coach (Mark Covert) really felt that we had the talent to go all the way to the state meet. Mark Covert and John Tansley were two of the best coaches I ever ran for.’’
Thomas would later earn track scholarships to UCLA and San Diego State, but injuries did not allow him to reach the level of success he achieved in Glendale. He was inducted into the Mt. SAC invitational hall of fame in 1994 and his records in that meet stood for over 20 years. He earned his bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in real estate in 1980 from San Diego and has been an independent real estate broker in Glendale for over 25 years. He and his wife Lynne and their four children live in La Crescenta, where he is a council member for the CV Town Council.