Kerri Morgan, assistant professor of occupational therapy and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was the first woman to make the U.S. national wheelchair rugby team — quite an accomplishment considering she didn’t discover wheelchair rugby until her 20s.
“It was the first sport,” she says, “that showed me that people with disabilities can compete at the very top levels.”
But when it became apparent she didn’t have the size to continue to compete at the international level, Morgan turned her attention to the track. “It’s funny how when one door closes, another one tends to open,” she says. “For wheelchair rugby, I was encouraged to work on my overall speed by pushing a wheelchair on a track. It wasn’t the original plan.”
But it was the upshot that got her to international success. Morgan and her coach, Steven Bunn, began training on tracks all around the St. Louis region, looking for tracks that would be accessible and optimum for a wheelchair. The training worked. In 2011, she took home a gold medal and three silvers at the IPC World Championships; in 2012, she gained two Olympic bronze medals in London; and in 2013, she returned to the World Para Athletics Championships, securing three more medals. Then in 2016, she earned a silver and bronze medal in Rio’s Summer Olympic Games.
All this came at the same time she was working on a professional career in occupational therapy, earning a PhD, completing postdoctoral work and joining the School of Medicine faculty.
“I think being an athlete and doing the training actually helped me become a better professional,” Morgan says, “setting goals, understanding how to achieve them, and adding overall balance to my life. It all kind of fed into each other.”
Morgan’s story is one of individual hard work and perseverance, but she also acknowledges the endless support of the Washington University community. “My students asked me about my training, my colleagues encouraged me — it’s just kind of embedded in the university, in our community,” she says. “And that has just been huge in helping me be successful.”
Her belief in community is why the Olympic “Spectacular” coming to Washington University means so much to her. Morgan says the rings are an affirmation of all that it takes to achieve the level of success she and so many other Olympic athletes have attained.
“They say track is an individual sport, right? But I would argue with that,” Morgan says. “When I get on the line, sure I’m the one doing it, but if I didn’t have all the support behind me, I definitely wouldn’t achieve the goals that I’ve achieved.”
And she’s not done yet. Despite all her accomplishments, Morgan says she’s considering another world championship appearance or even the 2020 Paralympic Games. Either way, she will use her Olympic mindset to continue to push for excellence in all arenas of her life.
Read more stories celebrating Washington University’s Olympic legacy here.