With the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo postponed due to COVID-19, and its future up in the air, three-time U.S. Paralympian Kerri Morgan finds herself at a crossroads. But not for the reason you might expect.
This year’s Paralympic Games was supposed to be Morgan’s retirement party. After racking up four medals — one silver, three bronze — in the last two Paralympics, the 46-year-old was going to make one last push for gold as a T52 wheelchair racer and then call it a career.
Then, in December 2019, her only event, the T52 100 meter, was cancelled because there weren’t enough athletes racing in the classification. A strong long-distance racer, Morgan had long ago switched to sprint races for an opportunity to compete. Morgan has transverse myelitis and classifies at T52, a less-populated classification for elite athletes. When you add that she’s a woman, the frequent result is that there aren’t enough competitors.
“I’m not saying it’s intentional, but it appears a lot of things are being cut from athletes who have higher impairments or less function. So you end up with a lot of sports being offered for people with more physical ability,” says Morgan. “There are more of them, so I get it. But we need to rethink how we organize events with a caveat that some classes need to remain because they offer opportunities for athletes that aren’t going to get them elsewhere.”
Nevertheless, the circumstances mean Morgan has decisions to make: Does she end her Paralympic career and concentrate on being an occupational therapist and parenting her two kids with her wife? Or, if she wants to go for gold, does she try to do so in a new sport?
If she chooses a new sport, it may be handcycling, since she cross-trained in it. “Now, I never did it competitively,” she says. “But people have reached out to me to say, ‘Hey if you’re interested, this is where you should start, and this is what you should do.”
But even as she explores handcycling as her next competitive mountain top, she is also weighing the consequences of choosing to pursue the sport full bore. “I need to see if this is something that motivates me enough to want to rearrange my life again and basically get up at 5 a.m. every morning so I can get my workouts in before I go to work,” she says.
The possibility excites her, and she especially likes that handcycling uses different muscles than wheelchair racing. “I appreciate the challenge of it, and I’m doing something that motivates me to keep moving my body and pushing the limits a little bit,” she says. “But whether I move my commitment from recreation to competition is to be determined.”
As she mulls over that decision, one silver lining of not training is getting to spend more time with her wife and their 2-year-old twin boys at their home in St. Louis, Missouri. Because of her past training schedules, she wasn’t the one who was there when they woke up and went to bed. “And since I’m working from home now, I get to have my lunch with them,” she says. “My bond with them has grown way more over these past few months.”
However, Paralympic competition still beckons. “I think the problem I’m having is I didn’t decide to end it,” she says. “I want to go out on my own terms and I didn’t get to do that, so I’m feeling really incomplete about it. Do I feel incomplete enough to take on a whole new sport? I don’t know yet.”
In addition to being an athlete, Kerri Morgan is a rarity as an occupational therapist with a disability. She talks about what she brings to her profession and helping OT students with disabilities.
“I always felt like it was on me to overachieve and show, no, I got this. Then I’d roll into a patient’s room and they’d be like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re my therapist?’ I had to prove myself to them too.
I also had to find my place, because you can do so many things as an occupational therapist. Like the other aspects of my life, I had to figure out how I could communicate, how I could relate to others and how I could adapt it.
So many OT students with disabilities reach out to me and say, ‘They’re making me do transfers — how did you handle that?’
I learned how to direct someone to do the transfer for me. I was the one in control and responsible for the actual transfer. I honestly wish there were more OTs with disabilities because as people with disabilities, I think we have a lot to contribute to the profession.”
Where’s the Most Accessible Vacation Spot You’ve Been?
Nice, France, has this awesome beach that is accessible, free, and has beach wheelchairs and trained staff who help you get into the ocean.
Where Do You Like to Go on a Date?
In the summer, we go to a lot of St. Louis Cardinals baseball games. The last concert I went to was Mumford & Sons.
Can’t Live Without:
Whatever piece of sports equipment I’m using. I really enjoy my Top End Force RX handcycle.
** This post was originally published on https://www.newmobility.com/2020/09/paralympian-occupational-therapist-kerri-morgan/