Don’t assume. If I’m wearing baggy pants you’d never know I’m missing both my legs. Don’t assume you know someone’s circumstances. This happens all the time with handicapped parking. Thankfully I’m always wearing shorts so I never get questioned, but people assume because I’m young I’m not disabled.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Morgan Stickney.
Morgan Stickney is a swimmer, student, and bilateral amputee. At the age of 15, she was ranked among the top 20 swimmers in the country, with her eyes set on the Olympics. An extremely rare vascular disease robbed her of this dream when it took her left leg. But just six weeks after the surgery, she was back in the pool, training for the 2018 Paralympic Nationals; she won first place in two events. The disease returned and took her right leg this past October 2019, but she continues to fight for the gold and is training for Tokyo 2021! Morgan is currently training with the TAC Titans under John Payne in North Carolina. Morgan is a pre-med student at Biola University in Southern California, and hopes to become a doctor.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up playing sports but it wasn’t until I started swimming at the age of ten that I realized that the pool was my happy place. When I first started swimming I was extremely slow, placing 57th out of 60 swimmers. With determination and training, I eventually ranked top 20 in the country! My eyes were set on the Olympics, but then the most unimaginable thing happened. I began having pain in my left foot, which doctors originally thought was bone inflammation. After waiting eight months for my foot to heal, I decided to do the surgery. This surgery led to more surgeries and after a six-year battle, it ended with osteomyelitis, requiring my left leg to be amputated below the knee.
With much determination, I got back in the pool training just six weeks after the amputation, a short four months later I competed at Nationals and became national champion in two events!
Then, the unimaginable happened again. I began to feel the same, familiar pain in my right foot. I was terrified. Following an angiogram, my doctors determined that there was a never-seen-before lack of blood flow from mid-calf down to my foot. Essentially, my foot was dying and there was no explanation. My only option was to undergo another below-the-knee amputation making me a bilateral amputee.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
Losing my first leg was difficult, but it will never compare to the loss of my second leg. When it was time to lose my first leg, I almost felt ready as I had suffered for the six years prior. I was no longer able to walk, bare weight, or even move the foot.
But when I learned about my right leg I was physically and emotionally destroyed. It felt as though my life just came crashing down and I wouldn’t ever be able to re-build it. Although I felt hopeless and lost, I made a promise to myself that I would get through it, remain positive, and make the most of my situation.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness ?
I was fortunate enough to be able to compete at the 2018 Paralympic Nationals and became National Champion in two individual events. I was also a part of the Paralympic National Team.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something and instead seek out opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. I was recently awarded the Dymatize Women Strong Grant which will allow me to go to Carrollton, Texas and complete a six-week training program with Adaptive Training Foundation (ATF). ATF is a non-profit that exists to bridge rehabilitation and adapted sport, and thanks to sponsors like Dymatize, all expenses are covered for adaptive athletes like me who are accepted into their training program. Things like this continue my drive and prove wrong everyone who told me there were things I would never be able to do again after becoming a unilateral and a bilateral amputee. The only limit in this world is yourself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Definitely! My parents have been my #1 cheerleaders through everything. They stayed in the hospital with me for 10 weeks straight and have allowed me to continue living out my swimming dreams despite all I’ve been through. A newer person in my life that I am immensely grateful for is my coach JP (John Payne). He took on the challenging role of coaching a bilateral amputee and he’s been nothing short of amazing. He is always finding better ways of doing things and is constantly thinking outside of the box. I’m excited for the new journey I have with JP and to have the opportunity to chase my dreams with an amazing coach by my side.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to show other people that despite your circumstances anything is possible. We all have challenges in life — mine just happens to be more obvious than others — but it’s the way you handle those challenges that define who you are. Something else that I strongly believe in is being happy. I’m always smiling because I just love living life and I’d challenge you to enjoy the moments you have left because every day is truly a gift.
Can you share “5 things I wish people understood or knew about people with physical limitations” and why.
- The biggest thing would be to treat me how you would treat anyone else. My disability doesn’t define me.
- Don’t be afraid of asking questions. Everyone is different but I’m very open to answering questions. I never want someone to feel awkward about asking me a question because ultimately people are just curious.
- Don’t be afraid to offer someone help with a disability but don’t be surprised if they refuse help. One of the biggest things for me is being independent. Most times when someone offers me help I refuse, but there are times when it is actually needed.
- Don’t assume. If I’m wearing baggy pants you’d never know I’m missing both my legs. Don’t assume you know someone’s circumstances. This happens all the time with handicapped parking. Thankfully I’m always wearing shorts so I never get questioned, but people assume because I’m young I’m not disabled.
- Don’t try to avoid the topic of my disability if it’s obvious. Many times people will feel awkward around me because they won’t know how I’ll respond about my legs. But here’s the thing: I’m aware my legs are missing! So don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
My favorite quote is, “Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on, but you keep going anyways”.
This quote is what got me through my bilateral amputations and it has stuck with me ever since. So many times we are faced with challenges in life that we think we won’t be able to handle but then we always end up surprising ourselves.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I admire so many people, but someone that really stood out to me is Michael Phelps. It is amazing what he has accomplished in the pool, but also what he has overcome to be able to accomplish those goals. I love how he openly spoke about mental health to educate others.