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Former Olympian dreams of MD degree

Loree Thornton Sets Her Sights on a New Challenge

From throwing a hammer in Beijing in the 2008 Summer Olympics to studying in the classrooms at CU Anschutz to become a surgeon, former Olympian Loree Thornton is no stranger to pushing herself to her limits in pursuit of her dreams.

Photo courtesy of Matt Kaskavitch

Thornton decided to set her sights on becoming an Olympian after watching the 1996 Summer Olympics. She knew that she would go on to meet the Russian gymnast that she had fallen in love with.

“I was like, ‘I need to speak Russian so I can meet him,’” Thornton said with a laugh. “Because you know, I’d meet him and get married.”

She didn’t learn what her Olympic event would be until during her undergraduate studies in college. One day, her track-and-field coach told her that she looked like she could be a hammer thrower.

“I was like, ‘Cool what’s that?’” Thornton said. She admitted that before that day, she had never heard of hammer throwing. To her—and to many others—hammer throwing is a lesser-known sport. The hammers thrown in the sport consist of a metal ball that weighs around nine pounds, attached to a steel wire to be swung above the head, and released to fly across the field.

In 2008, her dreams became a reality. She had earned one of the three spots on the US hammer throwing team for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. She admits that walking out into the stadium was one of the most surreal experiences of her life. She had given over 10 years in pursuit of a dream that she had set for herself in 1996.

“You question yourself, you question the process, and then to walk into a stadium that’s vibrating with energy,” Thornton said. “Wearing USA across your chest is one of the best feelings. I cried when I walked out. I thought, ‘all that work for this moment.’ It was pretty exciting.”

Thornton retired from throwing in 2012 to chase another dream of hers: becoming a surgeon. Being a doctor had always been on her mind as something that she wanted to do, but she had doubted her abilities to reach it.

Coming from an underprivileged background, Thornton set out to achieve a goal that many told her that she couldn’t achieve.  If going to the Olympics had taught Thornton anything, it’s that any dream, no matter how distant it appears to be, can be achieved with enough hard work and dedication.

The training for being a surgeon isn’t exactly like hammer throwing, but Thornton manages to find new ways to challenge herself to become the best doctor she knows she can be. When trying to decide which surgical specialty to choose, she admits that because most people comment that she is likely to be an orthopedic surgeon, she wants to be a surgeon in a different field to prove them wrong. Whichever route she chooses, she continues to work tirelessly toward her next goal.

“There are some weeks where I get five hours of sleep a night,” Thornton said. “I’m getting my butt kicked, I’m tired. But then I go into clinicals and I’ll learn about a disease in class and I’ll see it and feel like I’m helping a patient. That’s my favorite part; it reminds me of why we do what we do. One day, someone’s going to need the best of us.”

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