IU coach makes amazing comeback after back injury leaves him par - WDRB 41 Louisville News

IU coach makes amazing comeback after back injury leaves him paralyzed

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - He landed his dream job and then lost it in the blink of an eye, but the Indiana University coach Tom Morris fought his way back through determination and sheer grit.

Everywhere you look inside IU's new training facility, Cook Hall, there are words plastered on the walls meant to push and inspire Hoosier athletes, but Morris is one man who really lives by those phrases.

Morris has built quite a reputation.

"If anything, he just trains us harder, which is hard to believe because the way he trained us before was pretty intense," said Patrick Doody, captain of the men's soccer team.

"He's probably the most intimidating man I know right now," added Taylor Agler of the IU women's basketball team.

Morris is the strength and conditioning coach for IU men's soccer and women's basketball. He's an assistant athletic director.

He's also paralyzed from the chest down.

"Before this accident, I trained all the time," Morris said. "It's what I did. It's what I love. It's my passion."

Morris was one of those super-athletes.

An Ironman? No problem. But after one training ride on his mountain bike, his world has never been the same.

"Early May -- May 17 -- I was out training for a typical little training ride," he said. "I hit something and flipped over the handle bars, and when I did, I somersaulted through the air. I fractured my spine, fractured my neck, and just left me laying there on the ground."

His Number One goal was simple: to get back to work. After months of rehab on specialized machines, Coach Morris got the OK not just from doctors, but from IU -- which brings us to today.

The coach is back training.

"Everybody asks about walking, but the reality of this accomplishment of being able to get back, to get back and be in the environment that I left...I have to say this is almost more of an accomplishment than standing on my own two feet," he said.

Although his approach is much different now. Certain workouts require more prep and more articulation.

"Quite frankly, when it comes down to it, I'm not teaching a lot of people how to run by demonstrating how to run, so I've got to use my words a lot better than I did before," Morris said.

"You have such an amazing attitude, you really do," WDRB's Lindsay Allen said. "Does Tom ever have just a bad day?"

"I do, I do," Morris said. "And I have a great support system around me."

That includes his wife, Christa.

"When people say, 'you're an inspiration,' I think they say that to Tom not because he's in a chair, but because of who he is," Christa said.

He also has a friend in fellow strength coach Rick Danison

If anything, he's kind of a trailblazer," Danison said.

Tom Morris doesn't believe in doing things the easy way, so he refuses to drive a handicap van and instead insists on driving the same car he did before the accident.

It used to take him an hour to get in and out of the driver's seat. Now it takes him about a minute.

"I can't control what has happened at this point," Morris said. "All I can do is control my steps forward."

"He's the most inspirational man I've ever met in my life," Doody said.

"It's a testament to his character," Danison said. "I don't ever feel that he is moping around or saying why me?"

If anything, his athletes say, they're out of excuses.

"It's hard to say, 'I don't want to go out there and condition today,' or 'I dont want to go out and lift' when the guy that's pushing me can't even walk anymore," said Agler.

"What have doctors told you about your long-term prognosis?" WDRB's Lindsay Allen asked. "Have they told you -- will you ever be able to walk again?"

"The reality is...they said they don't know," Morris said.

He could focus on what he can't do, but that's not what's gotten him this far.

"To be able to come back to the life that I love, the passion that I have, has just been incredible," Morris said."One day at a time, enjoying the moment, enjoying every second I have of where I'm at right now, and um, we'll see where we end up."

Morris is quite the athlete still. He's recently picked up handcycling, and says don't be surprised if you see him competing in races come spring.

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