From Olympian To Broke: Could Debi Thomas’s Present Reality Be Caused By Mental Illness? [Video]

From Olympian to broke is how some would describe Dr. Debi Thomas’s life, as if it happened in a single free fall. She is best known for winning a bronze medal at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics figure-skating competition, becoming the first African-American to medal at the winter games. She won first place at the 1988 National U.S. Championships and the International Skate Canada Competitions that same year. But that was nearly 30 years ago, and a lot can happen in three decades.

After the Olympics, Debi completed a degree in engineering at Stanford University and went on to become a physician, graduating from medical school at Northwestern University, noted People. After this, she completed two residences, one in surgery and another in orthopedics, followed by a post residency fellowship. Debi, America’s former Olympian sweetheart, had become an orthopedic surgeon.

One of the reasons Debi didn’t win the gold in 1988 is because she chose to attend college, no less Stanford, while competing for world competitions. This is something unheard of in the world of Olympic contenders, but Thomas went for it, because she didn’t want to give up her dream of becoming a medical doctor, per the Wall Street Journal. She had two major life goals and managed to accomplish both.

How does a highly intelligent woman from California end up broke and living in a trailer in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia? An answer isn’t readily apparent, because human lives are complicated. There are layers that must be peeled to reach the core. Debi chose to be a guest on the OWN reality show Iyanla: Fix My Life. Iyanla Vanzant is known for asking guests hard questions that often pull them out of the fairy tale land of escapism into the here-and-now world of reality. She asked Debi one of those questions.

“Are you open to the possibility that your brain is not functioning at maximum capacity?”

Perhaps this is the key as to how a former Olympian could end up flat broke. The Inquisitr reported that Thomas is now living in a bed-bug infested trailer with an alcoholic, angry and abusive fiancé. Debi is no longer practicing medicine, and although she worked at two hospitals, she left because of disagreements with colleagues. In 2010, she started her own medical practice, but through a series of events, including two divorces, closing the practice for financial reasons and other life circumstances, she has no money. She also lost custody of her 13-year-old son, yet is helping to raise Looney’s two boys from a previous relationship. Debi is now soliciting funds via GoFundMe.

Because Debi is a former Olympian and surgeon, this confuses the issue for many. (It is unclear whether she still has a physician’s license.) She is now broke, and it angers some because they believe she squandered her gifts, talents, and opportunities. But take away the awards, the accomplishments and the former glory and it comes down to this: Debi Thomas is a human being. She acknowledged that the man she lives with not only hit her, but punched her in the face. The woman has also, rather bravely, shared that she has a diagnosis of a mood disorder, specifically Mood Disorder NOS (not otherwise specified), which is a separate diagnosis from bipolar disorder, and often, difficult to treat.

How Debi went from Olympian to broke may be due to a combination of many factors, but mental illness could be the main one. She expressed a desire to change her life, and hopefully, she will seek professional help, because Iyanla isn’t a licensed clinician. At the least, Debi now knows she can’t become empowered by going it alone.

[Image via Getty / YouTube]