Cody Thomas: Bringing joy and success from New Zealand to Alaska

UAA’s Track and Field team had never been known for their decathletes, but five years ago, Cody Thomas became one of the first recruited here of his kind. The Seawolves bet on a 19-year-old student from Blenheim, New Zealand, and the rest did not just become history, Thomas made it history. Thomas, who is a senior competing in his final season as a Seawolf, has set numerous records, and has collected his share of accolades and trophies in his time here at UAA.

“It is cool to have the records, but records are meant to be broken,” Thomas said.

In 2013 indoor season, Thomas posted a Great Northwest Athletic Conference record in the heptathlon, earning first place at the GNAC championships. During this season, he broke the school records in both the 60-meters and the 60-meter hurdles, recording times of 7.12 and 8.62 respectively. This set the tone for the outdoor season, where he won the decathlon at the GNAC championships, while breaking UAA’s decathlon record in points.

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Cody Thomas clears the high jump bar at the NCAA track and field indoor championships in March 2016. Photo credit: Chris Auckley

The 2014 season was more of the same. Thomas notched another GNAC heptathlon title under his belt, earning All-West Region honors in that category. Following the indoor season of that year, he was voted the GNAC Male Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year, and was named the Outstanding Male Performer of the Meet at the GNAC championships, winning the decathlon once again.

Thomas was not done yet. 2015 came around, and he was hungry for more. During the indoor season, the New Zealander finished with more All-America honors. He smashed his own school record in the heptathlon, totaling a score of 5,488 at the NCAA championships. He shined at the conference championship as well. Thomas was voted the GNAC Male Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year, as he anchored the Seawolves to their first ever GNAC title, while also being crowned the Most Outstanding Male Performer at the meet. He three-peated in the heptathlon, and set a meet record in the 60-meter hurdles. When the season was all said and done, Thomas shattered six more school records and topped it all off by winning most prestigious athletic award UAA has to offer — the Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year.

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Decathlete Cody Thomas poses with UAA Director of Athletics Keith Hackett after winning the Athlete of the Year award during the 2014-2015 Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year banquet at the Lucy Cuddy Hall on Friday, April 24.
congratulations from UPD to UAA graduates

Behind all of the records and titles is just a goofy, easy-going guy.

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“He is awesome. He is silly and really light-hearted. He has a good balance of being focused and being able to stay loose,” Track and Field assistant coach Ryan McWilliams said.

Thomas, also known as “Kiwi” by his teammates, was raised away from city-life, about 30 minutes from the nearest town. Because he was secluded from everyone else, Thomas had to use sports to socialize and garner new friends.

Kiwi’s involvement in sports have informed his life decisions.

“A saying back home is ‘a kid in sport, stays out of court.’ So I played rugby started at the age of five, track at seven, and some tennis later on,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ life may have even ended at 18 before becoming a Seawolf. After getting his tonsils removed, a bad infection led to emergency surgery to seal up the wound.

“I almost died, and that would not have been the coolest way to die, that is for sure,” Thomas said.

In New Zealand, kindergarten through eighth grade is primary school, while ninth grade and beyond is college. Thomas took a gap year following college, where he was a tennis counselor at a summer camp in Connecticut. This was his first taste of the American lifestyle. He was preparing for this prior to the journey, but there were still things that were a bit of a surprise to him.

Cody Thomas checks out a customer at the Student Union Information Desk where he works as a building manager. Photo credit: Young Kim

“Everything is so big and cheap. It is funny because you guys [Americans] seem to get annoyed if something is not big enough or cheap enough. People driving trucks in the city interest me also. Back home, only farmers have trucks,” Thomas said. “Sweatpants are not a thing there, and here I am wearing some right now.”

Life on the track is different in New Zealand as well. Athletes are not taught techniques or approaches, they rely solely on their raw athletic ability for their success.

“Entering here my freshmen year, it was a shock to be on a team, or even have a coach, because I never did back home,” Thomas said.

Coach Ryan McWilliams has had to take on this task, and guide Thomas through the correct methods.

“Coming here from New Zealand, you could tell he was very talented, but he just did not know how to do much. That is all I have done, he has done 98 percent of the work. I have done the two percent by showing him how to do certain things the right way,” McWilliams said.

Following the incident, Thomas spent grueling hours to get back into shape and land a scholarship for track and field. He had some Division I offers, but due to the complicated transferring of credits from New Zealand to America, Div. II was looking like the most realistic option for him. After mulling over the offers, UAA seemed the most appealing to him.

“It was completely different. My parents were telling me I probably shouldn’t go here, so I was like ‘I am doing it!’ Basically because they told me no. But they were very supportive once they warmed up to it. It was a good choice, it has been a great five years,” Thomas said.

Since arriving in Alaska, Thomas has made huge strides, not only in track, but as a person as well.

“When he first came here, his work ethic was not at the level it needed to be and he has made big improvements,” McWilliams said.

“He is definitely a hard worker, and it shows when he goes to compete at meets,” Travis Turner, a redshirt decathlete who is also Thomas’ roommate, said.

“I have grown up a lot, broaden my horizons. I enjoy intelligent conversations with people,” Thomas said.

Thomas does not work hard to improve just himself, but he pushes others to reach their full potential.

“He is a really good teammate,” McWilliams said. “He is really into seeing other people do well and helping other people.”

“He is always able to help me better myself,” Turner said.

Currently, Thomas is the building manager of the Student Union. With a marketing and management degree, Thomas hopes to “go into business to business relationships, consumer relationship stuff because I like to talk to people.” Whatever he may end up doing, Thomas knows there is one thing that is guaranteed.

“I will have fun with whatever I do. You probably only get one chance in life so I will enjoy it.”

As for short-term goals, Thomas plans on getting his MBA here at UAA. Following this track season, he wants to attend the World University Games, which according to Thomas, is the largest multi-sport event under the Olympics.

Although his decorated collegiate career is soon coming to a close, as his final outdoor season in full swing, Thomas will enter the next stage of his life with an open mind. As long as he brings his positive attitude, work ethic, and people-skills, Thomas will surely continue to be successful while also putting a smile on others’ faces.

Cody Thomas is a building manager for the Student Union. Photo credit: Young Kim