By Joan Goodchild
Shrewsbury – Love, respect, always. That was the mantra of JR Thomas, a beloved local business owner, health and fitness instructor, and former coach and educator at St. John's High School. Thomas passed away unexpectedly June 9 and friends and loved ones are honoring his memory by remembering how much of a difference he made in the lives of others. A celebration of his life was held June 15.
Thomas was the owner of JR Thomas Crossfit in Shrewsbury, a fitness training facility offering specialized workouts that encourage clients to push beyond their personal boundaries and limitations. According to Dana Clowes, a college student who trained with her brother, Connor, at JR Thomas Crossfit, the facility was no run-of-the-mill workout place.
“From the first moment I walked in to the gym I knew I was witnessing something special,” Dana said. There were kids of all ages, shapes and sizes all under the same roof with the same goal, to get stronger and more fit. His workouts were tough, he had the wonderful ability of just pushing kids far enough so that you hurt, but the reward was greater than the pain. JR made kids want to go to the gym.”
Before opening Crossfit, Thomas had previously worked as a football coach and was director of Health and Physical Education at Saint John's High School in Shrewsbury.
Head football coach John Andreoli had high praise for Thomas.
“Throughout his tenure as a coach on our staff, JR's enthusiasm and passion for football was ever present and his keen sense of humor was infectious,” Andreoli said. “JR was all about helping the kids maximize their potential, both on the field and in the gym, as a strength and conditioning coach.”
Thomas had a resume of impressive accomplishments. He was a graduate of Saint John's High School and the University of Maryland, where he earned a degree in kinesiology. He had a master's degree in education from Worcester State University and had played professional baseball in Europe. He had also competed in bodybuilding for many years, where he got to know Nancy Andrews, a bodybuilding champion and event promoter.
“I promote natural bodybuilding and JR won my show in 2003 as a novice competitor and then again in 2004 to win his pro card,” she said. “JR never competed as a pro, but was just a natural. Most people have to compete for years to gain pro status, but JR went right through.”
Andrews said JR's natural talent and discipline spurred him into a successful career in fitness, and he inspired almost everyone he touched during his time.
“The last time I saw JR was when I went to see his new facility. I brought my 3-year-old daughter and she tried a class. JR was unbelievably patient with all of the kids. He had a gift in his ability to work with others and bring out their best. He is really going to be missed.”
Dana said she attended a memorial service for Thomas and was touched by how much outpouring of emotion she saw from the many young men Thomas had worked with over the years.
“For some of them he was their coach, for others a trainer, a believer when no one else would. Most importantly, he was a father to both of his boys and all of the kids who came to his gym. His legacy will live on in their hearts forever because of the strength he instilled in each and every one of his athletes and the thought that yes, they can do it.”