BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
After a 2012 mountain biking accident left Tom Morris paralyzed from the waist down, the longtime Indiana University strength and conditioning coach wondered how — and if — he’d ever get back to helping student athletes achieve peak performance. From his hospital bed, Morris ruminated on a class project he’d worked on in college. “It’s kind of ironic,” he recalls. “This project was for a therapy class. You had to use a wheelchair for a whole day. … At that point I was putting in a lot of volunteer hours and interning in the weight room, and, at the end of the day, I said, ‘There is no way that you could be a strength coach out of a wheelchair.’”
But despite landing in a wheelchair for real, Morris — now the assistant athletic director for athletic performance and director of sports performance would return to IU just one year later, resuming work with the men’s soccer and women’s basketball teams. “I remember the very first workout and just seeing the women’s basketball team work their butts off and listen to everything I had to say,” he says. “There was one young lady puking in the trash can. … That I was able to [inspire] that [level of exertion] — I thought, ‘You know what? This is going to all be possible.’”
Morris, 37, currently trains the men’s soccer and golf teams. He uses new technologies to measure athletes’ energy expenditures and overall performance. “I can’t demonstrate everything, but I use different technology, from taking pictures of how they’re moving to systems that show how they’re bending and what the joint angles are,” he says.
Although he’s had to adapt in many ways, Morris’ pre- and post-accident philosophy remains unchanged: “Make today better than yesterday.”
He’s even returned to the endurance sports he loved before his accident, completing a relay triathlon with his wife and a friend, raising almost $20,000 for his Tom’s Team charity in the process. “Tom’s Team helps individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries return to some kind of physical activity … from joining a gym to being out on a handcycle,” Morris says.
Next up? He has a full season of handcycle races throughout all of 2017, and he’s eyeing the 2020 Paralympics, too. “I’m headed off to the Olympic Training Center to do this camp,” he says. “But, from there, a lot of things have to happen in the next four years. The immediate goal is just to jump back into racing handcycles.”