Photography and Story by Héctor Gutiérrez
Every sport cultivates a culture of its own. Gavin Thurlow has managed to establish a thriving culture on his team, one where people earn their place through sportsmanship, hard work, and commitment. As I later learn, track and field culture weighs heavily on the physical and mental aspects of running. However, Gavin’s approach to his sport goes beyond growing physically fit or mental toughness.
As I do with all athletes, I ask Gavin what makes a successful runner. “Heart,” he says. “You gotta put your heart in the things you do, or you’ll never be as good as you can be.”
Aerobic (adj.) : living, active, or occurring only in the presence of oxygen
Gavin Thurlow stands out–literally.
At six-foot-four, he towers over most of the students on campus as he hurries down the halls, waving and smiling, but always keeping his eyes forward.
The everyday race for Gavin extends beyond the track. His feet pound on the rubber with as much grace and athleticism as one can exude while running; it just comes naturally to him. This race continues into the classroom, on to his job, and on the road. He began at fifteen, and has kept a consistent rhythm ever since.
“When I’m running, my eyes are set forward. They are always focused on what’s in front of me,” the senior athlete says.
It’s a nice afternoon on campus. Two lacrosse players throw passes on the turf while a flock of track athletes run laps at a comfortable pace under the sun. From the moment he steps foot outside, Gavin doesn’t stop smiling. It’s contagious, to say the least. He radiates a sense of confidence that comes off as genuine instead of cocky.
I find myself rooting for this guy right away.
Gavin begins his warm-up while I remain on the turf. Due to an injury, his time spent on the running track has been limited in the recent weeks, but the simple act of stretching brings a sense of progress. It’s easy to tell that this track represents a place where he feels safe, but also a place where he can grow.
Athletes often carry lasting first impressions, and Gavin is no exception. He’s got a strong presence. Runners wave from afar, while some even stop for a quick chat during their practice. He seems to know everybody, but after learning all the various hats he wears, I’m not surprised of this anymore.
Future Air Force Officer.
Political science and economics student.
I lose track of all the commitments he has, which Gavin explains to me in careful detail as though each one is his top priority. He juggles an intense schedule every week that has him traveling between Yale and Sacred Heart, down halls and across fields, and it all converges in this one running track.
“I’m up in the early morning on some days to travel to Yale,” he explains as he goes over his schedule. “Balancing school, ROTC, athletics and my social life has been a challenge, but I’ve managed to get a hold of it.”
While he tries not to play favorites when it comes to his various involvements, watching him exist out here proves to me that right now, his true love is running.
Gavin Thurlow’s life – his passion, dreams, and aspirations – assemble in a rust-red, four-hundred-meter trail. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Warm-Up (noun) : To increase heart rate and blood flow to the muscles and reduce the risk of injury, runners know to start each workout with a good warm-up.
There’s a golden rule in the Thurlow household.
“Growing up, we were not allowed to be a one-sided person. You always have to do something that you put your heart into,” Gavin explains.
He took this to heart. Since Mr. Thurlow had played competitive basketball at Navy, Gavin’s first instinct was to follow in his footsteps. As soon as his freshman year of high school started, he was diving head first into practice and games, galvanized by the notion that basketball ran in his family.
I believe it’d be more accurate to say that commitment rules over basketball in their blood. Right away, I get the sense that the Thurlows live with purpose; whether it is on the court, the track, or a hospital, that’s up to their own convictions.
In a race, the warm-up is just as important as the race itself. Setting yourself up for success takes a lot of preparation which happens largely on the sidelines. Yet, the warm-up can make or break a runner. Based on Gavin’s upbringing and his childhood memories, it’s clear that his parents made sure to set him up for success during the rest of his life.
Gavin laughs when I bring up his siblings. Through the years, the three of them have crafted a healthy competition. Trophies, personal records, newspaper clippings; everything is fair game when it comes to being the “winning” Thurlow.
“Once I graduate, I won’t have the opportunity to compete for more victories, or attempt to break more personal records.”
Wrongly, I assume the race is over. “So, does that mean you’ve lost?”
Gavin chuckles, a grin quickly settling into his face. “No, I’m going into the Air Force. I’m pretty sure that means I’ve won.”
He clearly means this as a joke, but it rings true in many ways. Next year, his sister will continue to shine in varsity volleyball as an “all-league” player, and his brother will be venturing into collegiate basketball. Gavin will put aside his athletic gear in exchange for camouflage, and trade in his running sneakers for military boots. Instead of competing for trophies, he’ll be serving his country, making a difference, and fulfilling a mission he’s passionately crafted for himself: to do the most good.
It all comes down to this–making a difference. And I don’t question his pursuit. Lots of people claim to want to help others, but the determined gleam in his eyes and the seriousness that his face adopts when we speak of his purpose are all signs that Gavin means it.
In no time, though, we are laughing again, conversing about insignificant things that do not exist within the lanes of this track. We talk about his upbringing in the city; he gives me pointers on where to find the most delicious pizza in New York; and we discuss the books that have changed his life. Gavin doesn’t shy away from anything. He’s as comfortable as one can be in their own skin.
The Brooklyn native calls himself a typical Irish guy from New York who enjoys watching “Morocco” on Netflix and wishes men’s crop tops came back. At one point, he drops some knowledge in Spanish, and then jokes about believing in Big Foot right before he points to his own feet.
Gavin’s many things, but he’s mostly a man of the people.
Anaerobic (noun) : Short, intense running that does not rely on the body's ability to process oxygen.
Freshman year of college became a crucial stage in Gavin’s life, one that he still remembers vividly to this day. He enrolled at Sacred Heart as a nursing student, mostly under the encouragement and guidance of his mother. A nurse with many years of experience under her belt, Mrs. Thurlow knows first-hand that a career in nursing can give people the opportunity to grow; it’s a field where one can do a lot of good. Without a materialized passion of his own, aside from running, of course, Gavin decided to follow into his mom’s footsteps.
It was tough.
First semester is always hard, but Gavin’s life quickly became suffocating. He was barely sleeping as he scrambled to study for his nursing exams while dedicating the rest of his time to track. He rushed from class to work and then to the field. There was little time to do anything else, but something Gavin managed to fit into his schedule was complaining.
He wasn’t happy in nursing and it was taking its toll in his attitude, his running, and his life.
Could he take four more years of this?
“I found many reasons to complain which told me that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing,” the senior athlete reflects on a time when he questioned his principal purpose.
Nursing didn’t work out, which in retrospective, was a beacon of reason. With more time and sleep in his hands, Gavin could focus his attention on running, but also on discovering other passions. In the spring, Gavin met an ROTC student that made him rethink his career path. Without thinking twice, he enrolled into the prestigious program that Sacred Hearts hosts in conjunction with Yale University. It’s rigorous, demanding, and tough. Not everyone who enrolls into the program manages to complete their required time. Candidates must be mentally tough and physically capable to meet the strict standards that the Air Force sets for prospective recruits.
College athletics definitely gave Gavin a head start. He was used to rigorous fitness training, a busy schedule, and always carried the mindset of “I want to be better.”
While some may assume that ROTC would pose the same challenges and obstacles for Gavin that nursing did, his mindset changed entirely. Now, he’s carving a path that maintains his sight forward.
“I love running,” he says, “but I’m also excited for the future. It’s going to be tough, but also fulfilling. I’m ready for the challenge.”
He found a higher sense of duty and principle in a lasting career to pursue post-college. In all truth, Gavin Thurlow’s everyday race is just getting started.
“The Everyday Race” (lifestyle; noun) : a life rooted in breaking personal records, maintaining a steady pace, and leaving an open trail for others to follow.
It’s senior year: the stage in life when every college student grieves for a time under a ticking clock, and tries to spend as much time doing the typical college things. As Gavin braces on his lane, struggle will be imminent. But he knows this better than anyone. There will be injuries along the way that threaten his dreams; attempts to break his personal records that won’t always be successful; and challenges that will appear inescapable, no matter how fast he runs.
But Gavin doesn’t seem fazed by this. In fact, I’m certain everyone around him gets to experience the best version of him regardless of the situation. To his friends, he’s a goofy, dependable guy everyone wants to lean on. To his family, he’s ungovernable when it comes to his convictions, a trait that defines the strength and good nature of his character. To his teammates, he’s a pathfinder, a light to follow when it gets too dark to see.
To me? It’s simple.
Gavin is winning his everyday race and no one and nothing can slow him down.