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David Thomas: Don't let tragedy be your teacher

By Cheryl Hastings, Contributing Writer

David Thomas lives his personal life in much the same way as he manages his TI career: Goals, priorities, high expectations, and yes, even performance dashboards. So it was not part of the plan when one of TI's top leaders gained weight and suffered a mild heart attack.

"It was sobering. I was going into the operating room, wondering if I'd come out alive . and if I did, what would it mean to live as a person who has had a heart attack? What would my limitations be?" he recalled.

For David, the news following that November 2008 heart attack was promising. Damage to his heart was practically undetectable. Doctors set no limitations except to slowly add physical activity, and they advised him to lose weight and improve his diet. Now recovered and his clarity on fitness renewed, David wants all TIers to know that no matter what challenges work brings, the most important thing to manage is your health.

Extremely driven
In 2005, David Thomas was succeeding in one of the many challenging roles he's held at TI. This time, he was charged with bringing together the company's disparate IT Design systems worldwide into one organization and set of processes. He officed at two TI campuses and traveled 25 percent of the time. With more than 300 people in his organization, his responsibilities were many and time demands intense.

Meanwhile, he was proving to himself that he could meet a goal of 1,000 consecutive days of exercise.

"I kept a spreadsheet and averaged 60 minutes of exercise every day. Working toward that 1,000-day streak kept me going," he recalled.

For three-plus years he biked, lifted weights, and crunched. Before catching early morning flights, he'd cut sleep short to exercise. At his destination, he'd exercise to keep his streak alive. He found that working out helped him cheat the effects of jet lag.

"After I reached my 1,000-day goal, I wanted to end it on my own terms. I didn't want sickness or injury to cause it to end," he said. "So one day, I just didn't exercise."

Losing his way
With his admittedly obsessive streak no longer driving him, David's work-out rhythm struggled. His healthy eating practices dwindled. Gradually, he surrendered his good habits to the demands of stress.

"I fell into worse and worse shape, and I got heavy - I weighed the most ever," he said. "It was a high-stress time at TI; the economy was tanking, and we were preparing for the January 2009 reduction. Then one night, I woke up and I felt pain in my jaw. It felt like a toothache, only in both jaws, and it kept getting worse. So we went to the hospital."

Angioplasty surgery cleared a blockage in his heart. David might also say the frightening experience cleared his confusion about fitness.

Just two months later, David accepted his next TI role, this time as manager of Worldwide Facilities, an organization of more than 700 people.

"I felt like during the events of the previous months, God was trying to get my attention. And when I took on this new responsibility, I knew I needed to get myself back in the right place physically and spiritually to do my job, and to live up to the expectations of the people in my organization. They have a lot to do and they're such a conscientious group. I wanted to give them my best," David said.

"It was important to me to get myself in good condition for my family, as well. I have three kids and look forward to grandchildren -- I want time with them. I love my wife and want to take care of her, and I have a huge extended family which depends on me. My father died of heart disease, and there are heart attacks among my brothers, sisters and nephews. I wanted to model good behaviors for them, so I knew I had to get myself in shape and stay that way."

Changing for good
Today, David's health is back on track, and he gladly shares his story with others around TI.

"In a goal-setting meeting with Facilities leaders , I shared my personal story of losing weight and I incorporated that with what we need to accomplish in Facilities. I showed them my clothes from 80 pounds ago, and told them how I accomplished the weight loss - I set goals, I measure and monitor on a regular basis, I remember my motivation and prepare for unexpected obstacles that are bound to come."

Results the organization needs, he says, cannot come at the cost of personal health. They must work together.

"After a professional athlete reaches the age of 30, people expect less. But in our careers, the expectations only increase after age 30. To meet those expectations, you have to condition yourself to manage the stress that goes with the job through exercise, sleep and a healthy diet. When you put your body through stress, you have to give your body a chance to recover through vacations, weekends, and living healthy."

As part of his fitness renewal, David once again plots personal data on a colorful dash board, tracking 44 healthy habits that he knows keep him at his personal best. He's now exercised for 366 straight days, but the big difference between five years ago and today is that fitness is long-term and has no finish line, no 1,000-day goal.

"We must take care of ourselves as we strive for peak performance each year of our careers. It's good for us, it's good for TI and it helps us preserve our health so we can have it to enjoy when our careers are over. You can't run equipment around here without taking it down for maintenance, and your body is the same way," he said.
"You can't run equipment around here without taking it down for maintenance, and your body is the same way."
David Thomas
WW Facilities
David Thomas
Worldwide Facilities Manager David Thomas in the TI Security Control Center, Dallas North Campus.

David's tips
David follows four steps to live healthy:
  • Set goals
  • Measure and monitor regularly
  • Remember your motivation
  • Prepare for unexpected obstacles
You can see a sample of his personal fitness dashboard here. Also, view David's presentation on how to be a healthy corporate athlete.
Additional Wellness Links
Environmental, Safety and Health (inside TI only)
Texins Fitness Centers


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