Saturday, February 27, 2016

Figure Skating Champion Debi Thomas' Fall from Grace

Figure Skating Champion Debi Thomas’ Fall from Grace

by Stephen Lendman

In the 1980s, she was queen of the ice, one of America’s most popular female athletes, a Black super-star.

During her 1986 freshman year at Stanford, she won the national and world figure skating championships - named ABC television’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. Time magazine featured her on its cover.

In 1991, she completed her undergraduate studies after winning three world professional skating championships, graduated from Northwestern Medical School in 1997, became an orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hip and knee joint replacement.

In 2000, she was inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She had it all, then tragically lost it. 

On February 26, the Washington Post discussed her fall from grace, headlining “The best African American figure skater in history is now bankrupt and living in a trailer.” Tragedy followed her heady successes.

“She was smart” and ambitious, WaPo explained, “able to win a championship, stay up all night cramming, then ace a test the next morning.” Her future seemed unlimited.

Now aged 48, her athletic, academic and medical achievements are long past. In 2014, she declared bankruptcy, hasn’t had “a steady paycheck in years,” WaPo explained. The “former orthopedic surgeon…doesn’t have health insurance.” She can’t afford it.

“She’s twice divorced, and her medical license, which she was in danger of losing…expired around the time she went broke.”

“She hasn’t seen her family in years.” How could a world-class athlete turned orthopedic surgeon become “undone by internal struggles and left penniless?”

How could glory sour to unraveling and despair? She calls herself “a visionary (able) to put very complex things together.”

At age 48, she’s still relatively young with many good years ahead. Her fiance is an unemployed coal miner. “She says she wants to help a community she…describes as having ‘socioeconomic struggles,’ “ said WaPo.

She doesn’t want “to be normal.” She calls “(n)ormal…not quite right…not excelling. That’s why they call it normal.”

She “look(s) at the world differently,” she explains, saying it’s “the Olympian mentality.” She combined exceptional athleticism with an intellectual drive to excel. 

Skating or school weren’t divergent options. She excelled at both together. She described herself as “invincible,” driven to excellence.

Her confidence became a “two-edged sword.” She took “greater risks than others,” said WaPo. “She wanted and expected to be treated like a star.”

Athletics is one thing, orthopedic surgery another. “(S)he knew she wasn’t a star” like on the ice. “(S)he left one institution after another after short periods of time,” no way to build a successful career.

Her troubles mounted. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder - advised to enter a distressed-physician program, but she couldn’t afford it.

A year later, her clinical status was revoked, medical board records citing “concerns of an ongoing pattern of disciplinary and behavior issues and poor judgement.” 

Unable to practice, she declared bankruptcy. She’s now writing a book about her life, her fall from grace, stardom a distant memory.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

Visit his blog site at 

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