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Woman in rowing boat on the water

Rachel Morris

Nordic Skiing

At her first Paralympic Games as a rower, Rachel Morris took gold in the women’s single sculls with a time of 5:13.69, ahead of China’s Wang Lili (5:16.65) and Israel’s reigning world champion Moran Samuel (5:17.46).

Rio 2016 was Morris’s third Paralympics but first in a boat. Competing in cycling, she won time trial gold at Beijing 2008 and bronze in the women’s road race at London 212. Morris wanted a new challenge so she switched to rowing in 2013.

One year later, she finished second at a World Cup in Aiguebelette, France, and fifth at the World Championships in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Morris underwent successful shoulder surgery in April 2015 but recovered in time to place fourth at a World Cup in Varese, Italy. She steadily found her way back, taking silver at the 2015 World Championships 1.10 seconds behind the winner, Israel’s Moran Samuel.

Morris had both legs amputated due to complications of chronic regional pain syndrome.

Biography

Impairment information

Type of Impairment
Limb deficiency
Origin of Impairment
Acquired

Further personal information

Residence
Farnham, GBR
Occupation
Athlete, Motivational Speaker
Languages
English
Higher education
Nursing - University of Surrey: Guildford, ENG

Sport specific information

When and where did you begin this sport?
She took up Para Nordic skiing in 2018.
Why this sport?
She was a British Paralympian in handcycling [2008, 2012] and rowing [2016], but she was affected by a serious shoulder injury following the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. She was encouraged to try Nordic skiing by British athlete Scott Meenagh, who had been involved in Para rowing before switching to Para cross-country and Para biathlon. "I had never skied before and went and did some sit-skiing early last year [2018] and it was amazing, and that reset me and started to make me feel like I had a sporting future again. I then tried Nordic skiing for the first time last November [2018] and I fell in love with it completely."
Club / Team
Guildford Rowing Club: England

General interest

Injuries
She underwent double shoulder surgery following the 2016 Paralympic Games. She had also required an operation on her shoulder in March 2015, and was out of action for about four months. (bbc.com, 17 Feb 2019; gbsnowsport.com, 18 Dec 2018; farnhamherald.com, 09 Feb 2018; bbc.co.uk, 02 Sep 2015)

She suffered shoulder injuries and whiplash in July 2012 as a result of a collision with a car. (bbc.co.uk, 10 Jul 2012)

She dislocated her shoulder after crashing during a training ride in Bath, England, a month before the 2011 World Para Cycling Championships in Roskilde, Denmark. (bbc.co.uk, 16 Sep 2011)
Awards and honours
She was named Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire [MBE] in the 2017 New Year's Honours list. (paralympic.org, 31 Dec 2016)

She received the 2016 Para Crew of the Year award from the International Rowing Federation [FISA]. (worldrowing.com, 02 Dec 2016)

She was named the BBC National Athlete with an Impairment of the Year in 2007. (paralympics.org.uk, 26 Jun 2012)
Other sports
She competed in cycling road at the Paralympic Games in 2008 and 2012. She claimed a world title in Para sailing in 2004, and also won a gold medal in rowing at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. (SportsDeskOnline, 10 Jan 2019; britishrowing.org, 12 Jun 2014; bbc.co.uk, 03 Apr 2014)
Milestones
She was the first British handcyclist to win a gold medal at the Paralympic Games, claiming victory in the HCA/HCB/HCC time trial at the 2008 Games in Beijing. (SportsDeskOnline, 10 Jan 2019; paralympics.org.uk, 26 Jun 2012)

She became the first British female Para Nordic skier to compete at the world championships when she took part in the 2019 edition in Prince George, BC, Canada. (bbc.com, 17 Feb 2019)
Ambitions
To compete at the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. (gbsnowsport.com, 18 Dec 2018)
Impairment
She aimed to compete in sailing at the Olympic Games, but developed a condition called reflex sympathetic dystrophy [RSD] after twisting her ankle on a dry ski slope. The condition involves a malfunction of the nervous system and causes extreme pain and sensory disabilities. She eventually had both legs amputated as a result. (bbc.co.uk, 10 Jul 2012, 16 Sep 2011; paralympics.org.uk, 26 Jun 2012)
Other information
SWITCHING SPORTS
She won gold medals in handcycling [2008] and rowing [2016] at the Paralympic Games, but she spent almost a year in hospital recovering from shoulder surgery following the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. She thought her sporting career was at an end but decided to try Para Nordic skiing after talking to Scott Meenagh, who lost both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan. Meenagh had got involved in the sport as part of his rehabilitation. "When I saw Scott competing, I thought it looked amazing and when I contacted him, he said it was definitely my sport. I've always wanted to do a winter sport and the opportunity just came along. Part of me wondered if I was stupid for wanting to start at the bottom again, but the other part of me was saying it was a great opportunity and I should give it a go and see what happens. It is amazing to get to that standard in another sport. [Skiing] brings together a lot of my strong points and it is very similar to the physiological demand rowing puts on you." (bbc.com, 17 Feb 2019)

EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE
She has used her success in a number of sports to inspire the next generation of athletes, which includes devising a course on emotional resilience through The Teen Summit organisation. "[I want] to try and assist those struggling with mental health, physical disabilities, family breakdowns and being a teenager." (gbsnowsport.com, 18 Dec 2018)

Results

Unit Date Rank
Prince George 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships (Prince George, Canada)
Event Medal Unit Date Rank
Women's Middle Distance - Free Style Sitting Final 2019-02-17 7
Women's Sprint - Free Style Sitting Final 2019-02-18 6
Women's Long Distance - Classic Sitting Final 2019-02-24 5