"What's It Like To…" is a series that looks inside the worlds of extreme sports and professional athletics.
I met Tra Thomas, the ex-NFL player, a few years ago when a friend and I did a boot camp personal training session with him at his gym, 7 Deuce Sports in Medford, NJ. I wasn't sure what Tra looked like in person, so when an athletic looking guy started to set up equipment, I walked over to him and asked if he was Tra. This employee smirked and said, no, Tra was a little bigger than he was.
Then Tra walked out. He was bigger. Much bigger. Listed as 6'7" and over 300 lbs, he was in excellent, intimidating shape. When he's standing over you, you do however many sit ups he asks you to do. Quickly.
Just recently, I asked Tra to share some of his experiences in the NFL. Tra is 40 years old and played 11 years with the Eagles and 1 year with Jacksonville. He started in 180 professional games and made it to 3 Pro Bowls.
Q: What was training like in the NFL during the season?
3 days each week I did 45-60 minutes of cardio, and strength training that took me at least an hour. Wednesday's practices were an hour and a half. Thursday's practices took two hours, and Friday's practices were around a hour and a half.
My workouts during the season weren't that difficult. It was all about maintaining. My bench press wouldn't go over 315 lbs.
Q: What was the biggest physical challenge of playing?
The biggest physical challenge was pushing through the pain, but we had an excellent training staff that kept us going. You had your normal aches and pains I think most people could push through. The ability to push through an injury is what separates us from everyone else.
I remember while playing against the 49ers I felt a pop in my foot. I had the trainer tape my foot up and finished the game. I ended up having plantar fasciitis. I never missed a play or game. I would drive to New York on my off days to have a specialist zap my foot with some machine to make it heal faster. Toradol helped us a lot also. The only downside to Toradol is it delays what you feel. You would feel awesome until everything started coming back Monday evening. Tuesday mornings sucked.
Q: What was the biggest mental challenge of playing?
The biggest mental challenge was the amount of time we spent in the meeting room going over the game plan and watching film. My Offensive Line Coach Juan did a good job teaching us how to study our opponents.
Q: How did playing NFL football affect or change you as a person?
Besides the health issues, I think I became withdrawn from the normal, real world. I say that because during the season I was a totally different person. I didn't want to talk to anyone, especially before a game. My mindset was so aggressive, I didn't like dealing with anyone. What made me good on the field, made me not so good off.
I really didn't hang out with my family much, because by the time I got home from practice, all I wanted to do was lay down. After home games I would go out to eat with my family, but I usually just sat quietly because I was thinking about what I just went through. I would play the game back in my mind and think about the mistakes I had made and what I could have done better. I never slept after our games because my mind wouldn't stop racing. No matter what time we played on Sunday I usually didn't go to sleep until late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
Q: Would you play professionally again now, in light of what we're learning about the risks to players?
YES!!! High Risk, High Reward.
Thanks to Tra for sharing his story! If you do ultra sports or have a sports-related career and would like to be interviewed, contact Dr. Whitman at email@example.com.
Dr. Sarah Whitman practices sports psychiatry in Philadelphia. She is a guest contributor on Sports Doc