With a big breath, Trinity Thomas stepped onto the floor for her routine against Penn State.
The crowd at Recreation Hall on March 7 in State College, Pennsylvania, included many family and friends. Trinity is from York, Pennsylvania, a little over 100 miles from PSU.
The nerves were running through her body as she began her exercise.
“I was going one pass at a time and before my last pass, I was like, ‘You can do this. If you land this, you’ve done it,’” Trinity said.
Once she finished, she felt good about it, but it was unknown how the judges would rule.
And then she heard the roar from the crowd.
And she knew then she had once again etched her name in Florida gymnastics history. Trinity had scored yet another perfect 10 — one of four this season, including one on bars and two on beam.
There is the Trinity Thomas Florida fans know, the gymnast with record-breaking scores and Olympic dreams. But there is also Trinity the person, who is always there to mentor young gymnasts.
“I was always striving for more”: Trinity’s athletic past
Trinity’s impact on the spectators that Saturday afternoon extended well past the conclusion of the meet. As soon as it ended, hundreds of fans packed the floor to catch a glimpse of her and snap a picture with a local legend.
This included many young gymnasts, some from Prestige Gymnastics, the academy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Trinity trained.
According to Jen Fatta, the owner and head coach of Prestige, almost 90 percent of the team had made the two-hour drive.
“It was so cool,” Trinity said. “The little ones aren’t so little now; they are like as tall as me.”
Part of the reason Trinity is welcoming to young gymnasts is because she sees herself in them.
Gymnastics wasn’t part of the plan for Trinity. Neither of her parents did the sport but one incident caused her mom to rethink that.
“Trinity put a hole in my wall,” Titania Thomas said. “Her and her sister were flipping around, and I said ‘we have to put you in gymnastics. We have to find something for you to do.’”
Trinity comes from an athletic background. Her dad, Tisen Thomas, was a wide receiver at Penn State in the early 1990s and Titania was a cheerleader.
Growing up, playing sports — especially swimming — was the norm for Trinity and her four younger siblings.
Tesia Thomas, Trinity’s younger sister, has a track scholarship lined up next year at Penn State. Her other siblings — Taleyn, Tristen and Tayvon — play volleyball, track, football and swimming, respectively.
But Trinity didn’t begin gymnastics right away. She started in her mom’s sport of cheerleading.
After two days of gymnastics at her cheerleading program, seven-year-old Trinity was asked to start her own gymnastics team.
Trinity said she was hooked immediately, but she found herself at an early disadvantage. Many girls start out in gymnastics younger than Trinity, so she was already behind.
However, it didn’t take long for the prodigy to move up the ranks, going from Level four to 10.
“I just took it step-by-step,” Trinity said. “I had fun the whole time, and I was always striving for more and watching the older girls and trying to copy them.”
In 2011, she won the Pennsylvania Level 7 State Championship in all-around and all four exercises. By age 11, the offers began to come in from U.S. National camps.
Eleven is also when Trinity began to attend Prestige after her coach left for New Jersey.
That was when Fatta first met her.
“She was extremely gifted, mentally and physically,” Fatta said. “She was probably the only one who didn’t know that, though. I think she knew she was good, but I don’t think she realized how far she could really go.”
It was during Trinity’s high school years that she took off. In 2017, she appeared in her first U.S. Championships, her biggest competition yet, where she placed in the top five in all-around, floor and beam and was named to the senior national team.
That still wasn’t enough.
“I still wasn’t super comfortable with competing, and I was still super nervous, and I’d get myself all worked up,” Trinity said. “It was really hard for me at first competing in big meets like that.”
Her high school experience was unorthodox compared to others. She was fully enrolled in virtual school and graduated a year early, she said.
As time went on, Trinity began to feel more comfortable, and it showed. She finished as a runner-up in bars and all-around at the 2018 Pan American Games and won a silver medal in all-around at the 2018 World Cup.
“That experience [the World Cup] was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had,” she said. “My mom and my coach came and I was the only U.S. women's gymnast there.”
“I go out and give it my all”: Trinity’s career
Normally a gymnast like Trinity would skip college and continue with their elite career, but that was never in consideration for her.
“I grew up watching college gymnastics,” she said. “I knew right off the bat, I wanted to be a college student.”
Trinity didn’t announce her UF commitment the way most athletes do.
Florida coach Jenny Rowland remembers it well.
She said her announcement, which was broadcast on social media, was like a gender reveal, with balloons and orange and blue confetti dropping.
“Someone said that she was making her announcement on social media to see what college she’s going to, and I was like, ‘should we watch’?” she said. “And then we saw the balloons and the confetti.”
When Trinity did arrive in Gainesville for freshman year, Rowland put her trust in Trinity immediately, starting her in all-around in every meet.
Rowland’s trust paid off. Trinity was a first team All-American on floor, won SEC Freshman of the Week six times and was the only freshman to finish in the top 20 of every event last season.
Yet, the season ended in a disappointing way for the team and for Trinity herself. The Gators, who only suffered two losses in the regular season, fell in the NCAA Regionals and missed the Super Six for the first time since 2011. Meanwhile, Trinity finished 30th on bars at the NCAA Championships.
But this season, everything has changed – both for Trinity and for the team.
Florida is 10-0 and SEC regular season champions after completing its first perfect conference season in program history.
And Trinity’s play this season has been truly remarkable. In addition to her perfect scores, she has won SEC Gymnast of the Week eight out of nine weeks.
But Trinity is preparing for her biggest challenge yet: a spot on the Olympic team this summer in Tokyo.
Only four gymnasts will travel on the U.S. team to Tokyo, so it will be an uphill climb for Trinity. Although, she said she will be satisfied just making it to Olympic Trials in St. Louis from June 25-28.
“Whatever happens, it was meant to happen,” she said. “I think as long as I go out and give it my all, I’ll be happy with any outcome.”
“I want to be inspiring to them:” Trinity’s mentorship
Even if Trinity fails to make the Olympic team this summer, she knows what she’ll be doing in her free time — mentoring younger gymnasts.
It was during her time at Prestige that Trinity started to lead others. Fatta said she was so nice and everyone looked up to her.
“She was such a good teammate and such a good example to everyone at the gym,” she said.
Trinity even became a role model to someone close to Fatta – her daughter.
“There was no one I’d rather have my daughter spending time around than her,” she said. “She was just perfect.”
At UF, Rowland could have picked any moment when asked when she was most proud of Trinity, but it wasn’t a Gators competition.
“To see the National Team give her the Sportswoman of the Year last year was it for me.”
Every year, USA Gymnastics gives the award away based on votes by fellow gymnasts.
“I lost it emotionally,” Rowland said. “Just knowing that that award is voted on by the athletes of that sport and what it says about her character.”
Trinity is always the first gymnast to wish the younger gymnasts luck before a meet and isn’t afraid to cheer on her competitors, Rowland said.
She also said that after meets, Trinity will always go up to little girls and say hi and make their night and “touch their hearts.”
“I’m excited to see her share her love for the game with others,” Rowland said. “She has a platform to show little girls that anything is possible.”
Just like was seen on the national team and at Prestige, her impact is felt out of the gym as well.
“If we’re having a bad day, she is the first person I talk to even if it is just for a hug,” Florida sophomore Savannah Schoenherr said. “We are like sisters.”
But Trinity isn’t just mentoring others. She’s being mentored by one of America’s most famous gymnasts — Aly Raisman.
“She was there for me no matter what,” Trinity said. “She was always keeping me calm and laughing and happy like I normally am.”
Trinity also said one of her closest friends on the national team is a gymnastics legend — Simone Biles.
“She’s definitely a character and she’s so much fun,” she said. “She’s the best in the world and it’s amazing to train alongside her.”
But even though Trinity rubs elbows with the world’s best gymnasts, she still has a heart for those training in lower levels.
“I’ve always wanted to make sure the little kids know I’m there for them and they are always welcome to call or text me,” she said. “I know they really appreciate it and I love doing it because I want to be inspiring to them.”
Follow Noah on Twitter @Noah_ram1 and contact him at [email protected].