Through Running, Sign Language, and Grief, Tommy Thompson Finds Purpose

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Courtesy / David Michael

Tommy Thompson signs 'I Love You' during the Aid the Silent 5k in 2019.

If you spot Tommy Thompson at the San Antonio Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Sunday, his hands might draw your attention amid the pounding feet, churning legs, smiles, and grimaces of thousands of runners.

Thompson, who lives in Cibolo, uses sign language while he runs to honor his parents, Ollie and Georgia Thompson, both of whom were deaf. They died within a few months of each other five years ago and not long after losing them, Tommy Thompson began running.

“I did not have a clue to why people ran without a purpose,” said Thompson, who grew up playing sports that involved running but had never pursued running as a sport. “I never thought I would run more than a mile without a purpose.”

He found his purpose for running, at first, in grief. Thompson said his parents did not lead a healthy lifestyle and he wanted to make sure he did. He is the father of two young children.

“It kind of took off from feeling good and getting a second wind to, ‘OK, how fast can I run?’” he said.

He will participate in the race for the fourth time Sunday when the 12th edition of the annual event starts at 7:15 a.m. at the downtown intersection of West Market and South Alamo streets. Runners covering the 26.2-mile course will go as far south as South Side Lions Park and as far north as the San Antonio Country Club before returning downtown to finish.

Thompson, 33, jumped onto the course spontaneously last year when he saw his younger sister, Jessica, 25, running by herself. He wanted to support her and ended up doing most of the half-marathon with her despite having not registered or trained for the race. He will run the half-marathon again this year and hopes to complete his first marathon in the future.

When he runs, Thompson often has family on his mind.

Courtesy / Thompson Family

(from left) Siblings Chris Thompson, Jessica Thompson, and Tommy Thompson pose for a photograph following a run.

Ollie Thompson was born deaf. Georgia Thompson lost her hearing in an accident. They married and had three hearing children.

Tommy Thompson said he remembers first learning sign language from his parents when he was 3, though it probably began much earlier. As the eldest child – he also has a 29-year-old brother, Chris – he often served as his parents’ voice when the family was out in the community.

He would order at restaurants and communicate with cashiers. He became acutely aware at a young age at how the hearing world can exclude the deaf. As he grew older, Thompson began to envision possibilities for helping deaf people experience more of life in the hearing world.

Music always was a part of his life, and he thought about signing the lyrics so the deaf could fully understand what he was experiencing when he listened to music. Later, when he began running, he listened to music and started signing while he ran. It led to the idea of sharing his runs with the deaf community through social media.

Now, when he races, Thompson periodically checks in on social media to give his friends and followers in the deaf community an update on his race through sign language. He also communicates on the course through sign language at times. He gives the sign for love each time he crosses a finish line.

“This is something I consider a passion of mine,” Thompson said. “I wanted to continue on their legacy and the way I do it is being a part of the deaf community.

“This is my culture, this is my blood, this is who I am.”

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