We chose a location on a random stretch of beach just off the Honoapi‘ilani Highway on Maui — a place where we could pull Claire P. Thomas’ converted Sprinter van through the kiawe trees and onto the sand. The only other people around were a few environmental volunteers taking water samples down the way.
We were shooting Thomas “making breakfast,” and she stood just inside the van holding an egg above a bowl as if about to crack it. As our photographer snapped away, Thomas changed poses: She looked at the egg, then into the distance, then at the egg, and then behind me. And then she waved.
A couple stood on the periphery watching the shoot and whispering to each other. It’s not uncommon to have lookie-loos on set, so I didn’t think much of them and turned back to the task at hand, but Thomas was already engaged.
“Hi! I’m Claire!” she called out, hopping down from the van. She and her boyfriend, Jared Connell, shook their hands and the couple talked a million miles a minute: They had been following Thomas for a long time on Instagram and knew she was on Maui, and they wondered whether they would see her while on vacation — and then here she was! If the couple was halfway to the moon to be speaking with Thomas in person, they did a virtual lunar leap when she invited them to take her high-intensity interval training class at Makena CrossFit later that week.
“Bye, Rebecca!” said Thomas as the couple took their leave and she returned to set. “I really hope I see you in class!” For most people, this sort of send-off would be considered neutral politesse at best. But the thing is, Thomas actually meant it.
As the saying goes, you should never meet your heroes because chances are they won’t live up to your expectations. But as her serendipitous Maui couple can attest, Thomas is as genuinely nice as she appears on social media — likely because her feed arose from an authentic place.
CLaire P. Thomas
Hometown Molalla, Oregon
Birth Date January 26, 1995
Gig Certified personal trainer
Thomas was a track star in high school and earned a collegiate scholarship as a heptathlete. However, several bad experiences with university coaches and track teammates threw her off-kilter. She lost her confidence, developed an eating disorder, and, in the end, made the difficult decision to give up the track for good.
For the first time in her athletic life, Thomas was without a coach. She had to learn how to exercise and set goals on her own, and she also had to figure out how to flip the script, training to love her body and not to hate it. Her senior year in college, Thomas became certified as a trainer and decided to chronicle her healthy lifestyle and workouts on social media. “I was literally the last of all my friends who had Instagram,” she says. “I couldn’t have cared less about it.”
Until she did.
“I remember when the first person reached out for help — a stranger,” Thomas says. “She asked me to help her lose 50 pounds! I cried. I could not believe somebody wanted my help. I literally did everything in my power to help this woman. I wrote her a training and nutrition plan and checked in with her every single day. It was instantly fulfilling.”
Inspired, Thomas stepped up her feed frequency. “My intention was to help people — and when I say ‘people,’ it’s that one person, yes — but it was also the person in the mirror,” she says. “That girl who needed somebody, who was lost and afraid and alone. The old self that I was seeing now in others. I know what it’s like to feel like everything is falling apart, and I wanted to help others overcome whatever they were going through.”
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