After Coming Oh-So-Close To Tokyo, Morgan Ray Is Cherishing First Trip To Worlds
by Karen Price
Morgan Ray competes at the 2020 U.S. Paralympics Swimming Team Trials. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
Fourth place is a solid result — really, a strong result — especially at the elite level of competition, and especially at an athlete’s first major international competition.
So it’s not that swimmer Morgan Ray was horribly unhappy with his fourth-place finish in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2019 Parapan American Games. It’s just that when the podium is that close, you can’t help but be a little disappointed.
Last summer, he was a lot disappointed. Ray traveled to Minneapolis for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials determined to make the team that traveled to Tokyo.
“I had the best meet of my life,” he said. “And I was named the first alternate. That was hard to hear, that they were taking 10 men and I was the 11th.”
There’s no such disappointment this summer.
Ray will be making his world championships debut when Team USA travels to Portugal for the event that begins June 12.
“Definitely being named first alternate last year really put fuel in my fire, and when I started college last year my coach and I got together and got a plan together going into the next three years,” said Ray, 19, from St. Augustine, Florida. “I’ve had a much clearer, better mindset training the last 10 months because I’m having fun with it now. That’s really important because I feel like if you’re devoting all this time, money, effort and energy into it, it’d better be worth it. Having fun while you’re swimming makes it an even better experience.”
Ray started swimming as a little kid because he wanted to be just like his older brother, Mason, 20 months his senior. That meant following him into sports of all types, including swimming. Diagnosed with achondroplasia, the most common form of short-stature or dwarfism, Ray found that as he got older swimming was something that he was not only good at but he that he could also do without the stress and pain to his ankles, knees and back that other sports can create in someone with his diagnosis.
He was just 6 years old when he watched a family friend with achondroplasia, Miranda Uhl, win a gold medal in swimming at the Paralympics in Beijing.
“She came to my house and put the medal on me,” he said. “From that time on, I was like, ‘Holy moly, I want one of these.’ Growing up with that goal I realized really quickly that it would be a lot of mornings and a lot of evenings and a lot of sacrifices that you’d have to put in for that to happen.”
Last summer’s experience of just missing the Tokyo Paralympic team was a challenge. Ray had to stay in shape and prepare as if he were going, especially because with COVID-19 there existed the very real possibility that someone might have to drop out at the very last minute.
That didn’t happen, and when the team left Ray started classes at the University of North Florida.
Although it was tough being so close, it also proved that he wasn’t far off.
This year, he said, he and his coach have used the motto of just swim.
“Just throwing all things aside and just swimming,” he said. “Simplify everything and just swim your race. That proved to be really the key thing for me.”
In the prelims of the 100-meter breaststroke at the world championship trials in Indianapolis in April, Ray was just four-hundredths off the American record. He broke it in the final.
“That American record was a huge deal for me because I’ve set multiple American records previously, but none were at Para events,” he said. “And I just went so much faster than I thought I would be. I was 2.5 seconds faster than my time at the Tokyo trials, and that time would have put me on the team last year. It was a little bit of redemption, I guess.”
After that meet, he said, the sky’s the limit.
He’ll be swimming not only in the 100-meter breaststroke but also the 200-meter individual medley and 400-meter freestyle at the world championships.
“I’m getting really excited, just because this is my world debut and the biggest meet of my life so far,” Ray said. “Also I’m just trying to enjoy it all at the same time because it’s the first of many, in my opinion, and I’m just ready to do something special.”