Spotlight on: Kerri Morgan, Paralympian

| Senior Sports Editor

Although relatively new to wheelchair sprinting, Washington University instructor Kerri Morgan will be in Beijing starting Sept. 6 for the 13th Paralympic Games in that sport.

Morgan, who teaches a course entitled Innovations of Assistive Technology to Support Participation each spring, joins the U.S. National Team after qualifying first in the 200-meter dash and second in the 100-meter, the only events in which she is eligible to compete. She has been classified as a T52 athlete, meaning that she is in a wheelchair and does not have full hand control.

Despite strong showing this year, Morgan originally had no intention of becoming a sprinter.

“I’m more of an endurance pusher than a speed pusher. Unfortunately [my classification] doesn’t maximize my disabilities, but I’ve been really working on my speed, and we’ll see what happens,” Morgan said.

Disabled from the age of one, Morgan was first a swimmer, though she has never swum competitively because she competed against able-bodied children. Seven years ago, Morgan began playing wheelchair rugby, also known as murderball.

“I was one of the only females who played the sport, so I was trying to figure out ways to get better, to get faster, to get stronger and a lot of the rugby players were telling me that in the offseason, a good way to get your hand speed faster and your reaction time faster is to do track,” Morgan said.

Morgan was the first woman invited to tryouts for the U.S. National Team last December.

“I didn’t make the cut, and so my track coach told me ‘track tryouts are going to be in June. You might want to think about it,’ and so I started training pretty hard. My times were pretty good, and I qualified for tryouts, so I went to tryouts and things went my way,” Morgan said, explaining her journey to the sport of wheelchair sprinting.

Morgan, who is currently at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, now trains six days a week for the Paralympics, which will be her first international competition. In an average week, she engages in strength training three times a week, two days of speed training and one day of racing work during.

“I didn’t realize I was so involved in track until I really got into it. I have a very good coach who helped me understand the mental aspect of it as well as the physical aspect of it. I think honestly in my heart that I’ll always be a rugby player. I just have a passion about rugby. But I have really grown to like track, and I enjoy it,” Morgan said, adding that she will continue to play rugby and try to make the 2009 U.S. National Team in December.

While she is relatively new to the sport, Morgan hopes that her ability will outweigh the experience of her rivals, and she is waiting to see how she ranks on the international level.

“I haven’t really competed on an international level, so I am looking forward to the competition. I’m also looking forward to learning a different culture. I’ve never been over there before, [so I am] just enjoying the whole entire experience,” Morgan said.

In addition to all of her hard work, Morgan attributes her success on the track to the community.

“This is something that I’m taking on and didn’t really anticipate. The support that I receive around me from friends and family and from financial supports, from Washington University community, has been great. Wash. U. has been extremely flexible with my schedule. It’s definitely something that you can’t do on your own, and the support system is so crucial to being successful, and I’ve been really fortunate.”