Tom's Team tries triathlon comeback after paralyzing setback

Tom's Team tries triathlon comeback after paralyzing setback

BLOOMINGTON, IN  (WAVE) - You dread the misery, the chaos, the boredom, the danger and the illness in the Ironman Triathlon.

Take it all away, and some will do anything to get it back.

Training Day for the strength coach at the University of Louisville and the strength coach at Indiana University. One of them is stronger. Powering a hand cycle with his arms is so much tougher than the last time Tom Morris tried to power a bike with his legs four summers ago.

"I remember flying through the air. It was like slow motion happening," IU strength coach Tom Morris said. "When the impact hit, it jarred my eyes down to my feet. I could actually see the bike directly over the top of me. I laid there numb and tingling all over my body. I knew something was catastrophic. Not knowing exactly what happens with spinal cords, I knew if you do damage to it, paralysis happens."

Coaches control everything except a doctor's diagnosis.

"As she's telling us that he broke his neck, she starts tearing up and crying, and it's actually surreal," Morris' wife Christa said. "I remember hearing it but I don't remember anything actually happening."

Morris was paralyzed from the chest down. Biking, running and swimming were easier than breathing, reaching and surviving now.

"Physically I went back to ground zero," he said. "I couldn't breathe or move. I could barely do any of the little things."

It's a long way from Bloomington, Ind., to Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville, where Tom had to go for physical therapy. And it was in these nearly impossible two-hour trips each way that Morris realized people in his situation need help in ways other than technology and treatment.

"It wasn't until I got into the rehab center, started talking to others that were here alone, commuting an hour, not having family support around them, it really hit my heart," Morris said.

Six years after Tom and his friend, UofL strength coach Jason Dierking, finished the 70-mile Steelhead Triathlon, they announced they were going to try it again while trying to raise $70,000 for Tom's Team, their new support network for paraplegic patients who want to return to an active lifestyle.

Morris said he knows when the press conferences end, the struggles don't. Christa will do the running part of the triathlon relay. Dierking will swim.
Morris will tackle the 56-mile bike ride, with biceps this time.

"(On) the hand bike, originally after the accident, I think I went 500 yards and took me like eight minutes," Morris said. "I was cashed for hours after that."

Dierking kept wanting to help. But Morris kept helping him instead.

"His response every time was, 'Man that felt awesome,'" Dierking said. "The ability to get his heart rate up, that work ethic, and feel the suffering and that challenge, was a really good feeling for him. That was really encouraging to me."

Morris is still pumping him up, and touching lives at every pit stop.

"How fast can you make it go?" asked a man in wheelchair.
"The best so far was 48 (mph), but that was downhill," Morris replied.

The climbs uphill come too often. The most important part of "triathlon" is try.

"I had a great week of training and a hard week of training," Morris said.

He can average 18 mph now. That's just as fast as the cyclists who have a leg up on the guy lying down.

"He is 100 percent who he was and I don't even see the chair anymore, and that's the high point," Christa said. "I have my husband back, 100 percent."

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