Among lawyers, Sara Thompson is hardly unique in pursuing after-work-hours endeavors to retain her zest for life.
What separates Thompson from the herd is a tendency to tackle challenges that are not her normal cup of tea. More like a cup of castor oil.
Normally disinclined to become one with nature, she roughed it during a four-day hike at the famed Milford Track in New Zealand — and cannot wait for the sequel.
Preferring to log miles on planes to vacation spots, the travel buff recently decided to try covering long distances by running. Shin-splint trouble from training has not dissuaded her from taking on a half-marathon, with a full one on her possible to-do list.
Once intimidated by the notion of sitting at a poker table with serious players, Thompson has become a semi-regular at various casinos and aspires to stack chips at the World Series of Poker someday.
Not every venture is initially beyond her comfort zone. Thompson, reared in a cooking-minded family, prepares a mean meal while dabbling in oddities such as cupcakes and infused liquor. It should come as no surprise that the competition-minded Thompson, whose practice at Greenberg Traurig focuses on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, plans to eventually audition for television’s Master Chef.
Do you have a general philosophy about staying busy outside of your work by seeking out new activities?
I’m always looking to try new things. One advantage of being single is having more time to look for opportunities to do this. The first eight or nine years of my practice, I didn’t travel a lot because I was focused on my work. In 2008, I made a point of starting to take big trips. With work, we have a hard-charging group here, but they have been very supportive of the crazy activities that I do.
When I went to New Zealand, I thought it would be controversial since it was six weeks before a big trial. I told them I was going to be gone 17 days. They won’t be able to reach me by cellphone. They knew I would come back and bust my hump for four months.
Where does your interest in travel come from?
When I was a kid, we didn’t take a lot of vacations. My parents built their own business and worked hard on that. If we took a vacation, it would be to visit family. So there are a million places I want to go to. I have a long list of places that I’m keeping.
Do you look for trips that are more adventurous than sightseeing?
A little bit of both. I’m more outdoorsy now than I was. When I went to New Zealand, I had to buy my first hiking boots. I think I only broke them in for a day. It was something very outside my comfort zone.
We did a four-day, 33.5-mile hike over a mountain. We stayed in huts. I had to carry all of our food and cooking gear. I survived it. It was something that was so different than before. My friends were amazed.
What destination is at the top of your list?
If I could make it to Greece and Italy next year, that would be it. The key is finding friends to go with. A lot of my friends are not on the same level that I am on.
Your other activities seem to involve competition. Is that a coincidence?
That’s definitely my personality. It’s probably what drew me to being a lawyer. I always loved to argue. I like competition in all its forms. The reason I got into poker, it was such a scary thing. You walk in there, puff your chest out and act like you are as good as they are.
One of the things I have encountered a lot is, there’s a lot of sexism in poker. They have these expectations that women aren’t really good players. That we make these real risky moves. It just made me crazy. I eventually turned it to my advantage. It’s the same for a young woman as a litigator. Kind of the same mindset. You underestimate me at your own peril.
So there are similarities between bluffing in the courtroom and the poker room?
On cases at my previous job, I would act dumb. They really wanted to teach the dumb girl. And it worked every time. Same with poker players. You go in there and act like you’re going out [broke] in 10 minutes.
How about similarities with “reading” the opposition?
Reading people is something I’ve always prided myself on, both in my practice and in poker. From my time as a plaintiff lawyer, which I did briefly and hated, I can tell when someone is lying to me in their deposition or when they are having trouble with their attorney or if they don’t want to go to trial. I think I’m pretty good at that in the poker world as well.
If you wind up in a cooking competition, do you expect it to be more or less cutthroat than poker?
It would probably be more cutthroat. I think cooking can be pretty brutal, but it’s something I’m very good at. My entire family on both sides was really big into cooking. My grandmother is still the best cook I’ve met in my entire life. I have an aunt who’s an amazing gourmet cook. We try to outdo each other at family dinners. I learned to cook when I was really young, 8 or 9, when my mom said, “You need to play a role in this.”
I recently made white truffle mac and cheese. I totally did it from scratch and it was perfect.
How did you venture into making cupcakes?
Cupcakes were really big at the time. I went to one of the cupcake bakeries in town and they were beautiful. But they didn’t taste that good. I thought I could do better.
I was making them a lot for friends and for parties and work. One of my friends said, “Why don’t you make them for my wedding?” I didn’t realize I would have to make 200. I made all the frosting here, froze it, shipped it to Baltimore for the wedding, decorated them the night before.
Two or three other friends have asked me to make cupcakes for their wedding. I’ve told them no. Making as many as I did, I’m not a big cupcake eater anymore. You have to keep tasting the frosting and the batter.
And infused liquor?
That’s honestly the easiest thing in the world to make. It makes an amazing gift you give to people and they think you are the coolest person. I read about someone infusing liquor, so I made four or five flavors. I wanted to see what worked and what didn’t. Every now and then, I get the urge with whatever fruit is in season. Usually I’ll get a couple of them ready and have a party. It makes me feel craft-y.
Did your latest endeavor — distance running — happen to shed pounds from all the cupcakes you ate?
Several of my friends are into marathoning, and one of them has M.S. I figured, “if she could do it, I could do it” — a half-marathon.
I used to joke that I only run when chased. I’m trying to do a little better with it. It will be a long time before I will do a full 26.2 [marathon miles]. I want to see how I feel after the half. It would be a challenge to find the training time for 26.
You are also a fan of spectator sports, especially Florida State football. Is it difficult to be an FSU fan in the heart of Southeastern Conference country?
It is, but with all the Georgia fans here, when it comes to Florida, at least we all hate the same team.