Ten years ago, personal trainer Tim Morris suffered the unimaginable: a T-4 level spinal cord injury after a rollover car accident that left him in a month-long coma with a broken neck, back, ribs, shoulder, hand and punctured lungs.
Morris is now paralyzed from the chest down but, rather than limit him, he has turned his tragedy into inspiration by competing in some of the most challenging competitions in the world, including the Boston Marathon.
The Londonderry resident was the first paralyzed athlete to complete the Spartan Race Trifecta; he also completed the 2016 Boston Marathon on the Spaulding Race for Rehab Team, where he is a familiar face two to three days a week, and aspires to enter an Ironman Triathlon.
Last year’s Marathon was Morris’ first road race ever in a wheelchair and, while he was overwhelmed with pride and emotion upon crossing the finish line, coming in last out of the field of 27 contestants was not something he was willing to settle for. He’ll be pushing his racing chair 26.2 miles again this year, and his sister, Eileen Lingely, will be running for the Spaulding Race for Rehab Team in his honor.
“Having my sister running with the Spaulding name across her chest is unbelievable,” said Morris. “It’s making this a true family affair and my incredibly supportive fiancee, who I call my ‘race wife’, and our whole family will be at the finish line waiting for us. My goal is to get to them at the finish line as soon as possible.”
Training to push yourself 26.2 miles in a wheelchair is no easy feat, even for Morris, who is a personal trainer and works often with other adaptive athletes.
Finding a safe training route has also been a challenge, with his chair so low to the ground that many cars don’t see him on the road. He has even driven two hours down to Rhode Island to train with another wheelchair athlete because he had a good route and pushed Tim to train harder.
“I realized after my first Boston Marathon race that I didn’t know how to push correctly or how I needed to sit in my chair to get the strongest push,” said Morris.
“I trained for the race but I wasn’t aware of how ‘casual’ my training miles actually were in retrospect. Now I know the race course, I know the adrenaline, and I know what I need to do to correct my mistakes this year.”
Tim and Eileen have set a goal of raising $12,000 for Spaulding’s Race for Rehab Team to support the groundbreaking new research initiatives at Spaulding, including testing new robotics programs for those with degenerative conditions and others who have experienced debilitating injuries.
Morris often serves as a “test dummy” at Spaulding, where he puts on the exoskeleton suit or tests out other new equipment while therapists train to be certified for it. He is able to get up out of his wheelchair and walk around for a few hours while helping his friends at Spaulding provide care to patients, which he calls “an incredible experience.”
Tim and his sister are receiving fundraising support from all areas of their lives, from family and friends to local businesses. Tim’s father has been an employee of Sullivan Tire and Auto Service for over 30 years, and Paul Sullivan, vice president of Sullivan Tire, has often stepped in, hosting fundraisers for Tim and sponsoring him during his various competitions, including the Boston Marathon and the Spartan Race. This year, Sullivan Tire will serve as a Spaulding Race for Rehab team sponsor.
“At Sullivan Tire we consider Tim to be one of our own,” said Sullivan. “Tim’s father, Bob, has been a dedicated employee here for 34 years and we are more than happy to support his family and Tim’s incredible endeavors in any way we can.”
By ROGER BROWN
New Hampshire Union Leader