Morgan Stickney, Once A “Freak” In Training, Now Setting High Standards For Tokyo

by Ryan Wilson

Vomiting in the pool is a normal occurrence for swimmer Morgan Stickney.


It’s pretty typical for me to throw up every practice,” she said. “There’s been times when I’ve pushed myself so hard that I can’t even feel my body anymore, but it’s part of the sport and enjoying the process.”


Stickney, who is headed to her first Paralympic Games later this month, trains with Olympic swimmers Ashley Twichell and Claire Curzan, and they all like to push their bodies to the limits.


“We’re at the point now where we do such challenging things that we can’t even ask for harder things,” Stickney said. The group has nine pool sessions plus three to four weight sessions a week. “What we do is so challenging on a daily basis,” she said.


This is not new to her or her body. When she was younger, Stickney said, she was known as a “freak” for working so hard; now she appreciates training alongside athletes who work as hard as her.


“Being able to be on a team like that was just so amazing for me, and I never felt like I was the odd one out,” she said, “because I wanted something harder, or I wanted to do more. It was all I wanted.”


Stickney is a newcomer in the Para swimming world, though her history as a swimmer goes way back. At age 14, she was one of the country’s top able-bodied swimmers in her age group for the 1,500 meter and had realistic hopes of competing in the Olympics. One year later, she endured multiple surgeries for ongoing pain on her left ankle.


Eventually, the ankle was amputated, and an injury in 2019 prompted the removal of her right ankle.


That year, she told the pain she felt led her to taking multiple doses of a strong strong narcotic each day to treat her extreme pain.


“I’d study 60 to 80 hours a week, then go to take a test and not remember anything, because of the pain meds,” she said. “I was in so much pain.”


Due to a change in her father’s job situation, Stickney and family relocated from southern New Hampshire to North Carolina. Stickney quickly found her way in the Paralympic pool, per her surgeon’s recommendation. She found a good training spot with professional swimmers.


Stickney said she has no problem keeping herself motivated.


“I think whenever it comes down to being tired in the morning and not wanting to go to practice or something like that, I think that’s where my love for the sport kind of takes over,” she said. “I just really enjoy the sport and pushing my body to the max. That’s what pushes me everyday.”


That level of motivation has helped Stickney jump into the world rankings, and the postponement of the Games helped punch her ticket to Tokyo.


Stickney sits atop the World Para Swimming world rankings in the 400-meter freestyle S8, just ahead of Paralympic swimming star Jessica Long. Stickney is fourth in the 100-meter freestyle S8.


“I’m really excited,” Stickney said. “I’m just excited to have the opportunity, and be able to compete on a world stage. I’ve never been able to do that before. I’m just really grateful, and I’m excited.”


After her surgery, Stickney had to relearn simple tasks of her daily routine, such as driving a car.


“When I lost my legs, I had no idea about so many things,” she said. “A lot of the athletes were able to help me, whether it was swimming questions or daily life questions. For example, when I lost both of my legs, I didn’t even know how I was going to drive again.”


She said being around other people with disabilities has helped her transition into life as an amputee. Now she uses a hand control to drive. Instead of having the gas and brake on the floor, she pulls a lever by the steering wheel.


Stickney said her parents were excited she picked Para swimming up as quickly as she did.


The Tokyo Games will take place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5, with NBC Universal set to broadcast a record 1,200 of coverage of the Games.


“I would like to do the best that I can and make the podium hopefully,” Stickney said. “I just want to do a great job representing Team USA.”

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.