As a strength and conditioning coach at Indiana University, Tom Morris challenges Hoosier athletes to achieve peak performance and physical ability.
“Everybody has one mission and that mission is to get better and better each day,” Morris said.
A former football player, Morris put himself to a challenge and began competing in triathlons in 2005.
“Ttriathlons allow me to, no matter what level it is, is to put myself in a position where I want to quit and I know if I just sustain this, and be able to conquer it, the outcome is so much more rewarding and so much better for me,” Morris said.
But that grueling competition would be nothing compared to what Morris would have to conquer next.
“I ended up going around a corner and I flipped on something and somersaulted through the air,” Morris recalled. “And when I did, I ended up rotating through the air and I hit my head.”
Following that accident in 2012, doctors told Morris he was left quadriplegic.
But just as he challenges his athletes, he was ready to challenge that prognosis.
“I remember looking at tom and he still had a smile on his face like, it's going to be okay, I got it,” Christa, Tom’s wife of 10 years said. “His response was, okay what next?"
“The only thing I could do is really put myself in a situation that I was going to prove somebody wrong,” Morris said. “I was going to work my butt off and I was just going to go after it and just keep working the way I did.”
That work ethic has tom returning to the IronMan 70.3 Steelhead in Michigan, the race he competed in just before his accident.
“Ii think now just knowing that he's back and he's Tom and he's racing and doing what he loves that's what’s going to be emotional because I always knew, even after his accident that he would be here,” Christa said, who often competed in adventure races alongside her husband prior to the bike crash.
As a relay, Tom will complete the 56-mile bike portion of the race using a handcycle, while Christa does the 13.1 mile run. Tom’s good friend and fellow strength coach Jason Dierking will compete in the swim leg of the triathlon.
“Already doing this race one way, you know, up on my feet, it's an incredible thing to go back and do it in a complete different body in a sense and go up and do the same kind of race but do this in a different way,” Tom said.
Family and friends set up the “Tom’s Team” charity following his accident to help cover the costs of medical treatment, rehabilitation and accommodating his new lifestyle. He now has a goal of raising $70,300, signifying the 70.3 mile distance, to help others who have suffered similar spinal cord injuries.
“Thing was never about me, this race is a great igniter to the ‘Tom's Team’ charity and really raising it, but the reality is, even though this is an individual sport, I'm hoping the big picture is the charity itself.”
To donate or follow the progress of the “Tom’s Team” fundraising experts, check out their Facebook page.