There’s No Setback Too Big For Morgan Ray, Who Is Ready To Make His Mark At The World Series In Minneapolis
by Ethan Olson
Life’s obstacles have never been discouraging for Morgan Ray. Instead, the 20-year-old has used them as a way to jump into the fire.
As a short statured kid growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Ray wasted no time getting into sports. Despite the environment being tough, Ray set out to challenge himself athletically in any way he could. This included taking the starting goalkeeper spot on his youth soccer team.
“I’ve always had that underdog mindset with everything I approach,” Ray said. “In soccer as a goalie, I was a magnet for the ball. But I got kicked in the face so many times. It was funny, the parents would always get worried. But I never stayed down long.”
Fast-forward to 2022, and the sophomore at the University of Florida found himself at the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira, Portugal. The stage was set for Ray’s first major world competition as a member of the U.S. national team. But bad news reared its head just a day before Ray was set to dive into the pool at the Penteada Olympic Swimming Complex.
Ray had tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent to quarantine in his hotel room.
“We got to camp a couple days before competition started and everything was feeling good,” Ray said. “We all got tested on the day before competition started and I ended up testing positive.
“I was supposed to be on the 20-point relay team the next day, which ended up winning a gold medal and breaking a world record. I had to watch that from my hotel room and that really stung just knowing I earned a spot, but I wasn’t able to swim.”
Ray wasn’t out of commission for long, and he was able to rejoin the competition with three days left. His short time away was admittingly, a blessing in disguise as Ray was able to focus mentally.
“Since I was out to start, my whole world championships was jammed into three days,” Ray said. “So I didn’t really have time to doubt myself because I was just so thankful to be swimming again. It made swimming so easy because I wanted to so bad.
“It just reset my love for the sport. As much as I hated getting COVID, it really made me appreciate (swimming) more and now I’m ready for more success in the future.”
That success came fast and furious during Ray’s action-packed three days in Madeira. Despite the major setback, he was able to swim freely without any pressure put on himself. And the world championships took a complete 180 for Ray, when he took silver in the 100-meter breaststroke SB6 for the first world championships medal of his young career.
“I remember watching the race back and when I hit the wall, I had no idea where the clock was. I looked all confused. I gotta work on posing for the camera,” said Ray with a chuckle. “But I couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t.
“My jaw was on the ground, I got out of the pool and I kept looking at the clock. Everyone had already left and I was just standing there. An official had to come over and tell me I had to move for the next event. Afterwards, I just started sobbing.”
Ray is now taking the momentum he got in Portugal to April’s world series event in Minneapolis. He will be joined by a number of his international teammates who he has grown close with, one of those being four-time Paralympic medalist Hannah Aspden.
“She’s not that much older than me, but she’s like an older sister,” Ray said. “We were talking when I had COVID because we had balconies right next to each other at the hotel. She would yell ‘Are you okay Connor? How are you doing today?’ and I’m like ‘Not good. How do you think I’m doing, I’m not in the pool.’”
Aspden, who is coming off her own silver medal in the 100 back S9 in Madeira, will be looking to Minneapolis as a way to set her up for the fast-approaching Paralympic Games Paris 2024. But Aspden, who turns 23 in June, has plenty to build off, taking home two gold medals in the 100 back and 4x100 medley relay in Tokyo. As does 2020 Paralympian Leanne Smith, another national team member set to compete in Minneapolis.
At the world championships in Madeira, Smith came away with seven gold medals. In doing so, the 34-year-old broke four world records. It’s only the start for Smith, whose main goal is to be fully prepared for the Paris Games next year. Going off of her Portugal performance, she will have a spotlight on her at this week’s world series event.
As for Ray, he is fully set for Minneapolis knowing his career has already thrown him some curveballs. His personal motto “Just swim” keys into his goal of keeping a clear mind while in the pool. Now, he’s in a better spot than ever mentally.
“I can swim in the relays this time,” said a relieved Ray. “Now I’m carrying that momentum forward and now I can go a lot faster because I’ve gotten so much stronger in the last year. My new coach I have now, she’s already hit the ground running with me.
“I’m always enjoying coming to practice and that’s always the first part for me. I know I won’t always be having fun, but I need that little drive to aim for each day. If I can find one thing every day to work on, then I consider that a success.”