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With help of supporters, IU strength coach continues recovery June 7th, 2012

Indiana Daily Student – IDSnews.com

With help of supporters, IU strength coach continues recovery

By Joe Popely | IDS | June 06, 2012
Tom Morris has always taken care of his body. The IU Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach has competed in countless triathlons in his lifetime and would routinely wake up before the sun to start his workouts.

A regular mountain biker, Morris was wearing a helmet the day he suffered an accident that has him unsure if he will ever walk again.

When Morris flipped over his mountain bike’s handlebars and cracked his helmet while landing on his head on May 17 at Wapehani Mountain Bike Park, he laid in the woods, unable to move, for three hours before anyone came to his aid.

With remarkable quickness, though, friends, family and other well-wishers — more than 900 of them — have rallied behind him.

Morris first saw the Tom’s Team Facebook page June 2, more than two weeks after his cousin, Kathy Beaulieu, established it the day after his accident to keep supporters updated on Morris’ status and opportunities to donate toward his expensive recovery.

“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Morris said. “I don’t know what’s more overwhelming — the actual injury or the outpouring of support. It made me realize what the Hoosier Nation is all about and what friends and family are all about.”

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Tom’s Team had raised $15,190 toward its goal of $20,000 with a multitude of fundraising events and merchandise lined up.

“I still don’t know how it happened”

Morris described the accident — the cause of which is still unclear to him — and the following recovery days in his Facebook post on the Tom’s Team page June 2.

“My goal was to do four laps. However, on the fourth and final lap I went over my handle bars,” he said. “During this time I landed right on my head and cracked my helmet almost in half. I could remember falling and seeing my bike being over my head and landing.”

Morris said he could not feel his legs and felt a burning sensation in his arms, which worsened after he unsuccessfully attempted to get his cell phone out of his back pocket for the first hour.

So, he spent the first two hours listening to music and monitoring his heart rate, which he said never went above 120 beats per minute. By the third hour, he was able to stabilize his head by adjusting his helmet.

“With the students being gone, it wasn’t surprising that it took so long to actually be found out there,” Morris said. “I was really hoping in the first half an hour, 45 minutes someone would come by.”

Nonetheless, he never panicked.

“I had no fear,” Morris said. “It was a strangely eerie type of thing, just laying there in the woods. I don’t know why I stayed so calm. I diagnosed the situation: ‘You can’t move right now, can’t feel your legs.’ If anything, it was weird not to have panicked.”

Eventually, two riders found Morris and alerted a local police officer.

He was then transported to the IU Health Bloomington Hospital for initial treatment and later that night was flown to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for emergency surgery that stabilized his neck by fusing together his C6 and C7 vertebrae with a titanium plate.

Morris spent four days in Methodist’s Intensive Care Unit before being transferred to Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana.

When she first learned of her husband’s accident, Christa Morris said she found it difficult to handle.

“I was a nervous wreck,” she said. “I was heartbroken. He’s my life. He’s my world. To hear anything that happened to him, it crushed me, destroyed me.”

Staying optimistic with progress

Now, things are looking better.

Post-surgery, Morris regained motion in his arms, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands, and he was able to eat meals using utensils on his own.

He could also hold a sandwich with both hands and sit upright in his bed for a few hours per day. Since then, his upper body mobility has improved.

“Strength-wise, I’m a lot weaker,” Morris said. “Since then, I’ve had a lot more mobility in my arms, in all directions. My hand coordination has improved a lot. I’m still trying to build coordination but work on overall strength for my upper body.”

Still, it is impossible at this point for doctors to know if Morris will ever be able to walk again.

“The outcomes are really individualized. It’s really just a big guessing game right now,” Morris said. “Will I ever have leg mobility again? They don’t know, and they’ve been really open and honest about that. They are very optimistic about the fact that I have so many good things going on, but there are no pure answers.”

At the very least, Morris has been experiencing involuntary twitches in his legs and toes, he said.

As for his rehab routine, Morris said he generally wakes up at 6:30 a.m. and has his first rehab session from 8:30 to 11 a.m. After a lunch break, he engages in more occupational and physical therapy from 1 to 4 p.m.

But like he had always done before the accident, Morris is putting in extra work.

In addition to his normal rehab routine, Morris recently added a voluntary, hour-long exercise session at the RHI gym every day at 5 p.m. so he could gain strength and do some of his own exercises.

“It’s what I always did,” Morris said. “I always try to go above and beyond everything and maximize stuff. With the extra downtime, I figure, ‘What the heck? Get in there.’ With the right amount of sleep and eating right, it allows me to have the energy to get in there and push more and more.”

An outpouring of support

Beaulieu, Morris’ cousin, is the administrator of the Tom’s Team Facebook page and writes posts for it.

She was concerned about the high cost of Morris’ recovery and created a Tom’s Team fundraising website, www.gofundme.com/toms-team for supporters to donate funds that will help subsidize Morris’ expensive recovery.

“The financial support has been incredible, amazing,” Beaulieu said. “Everyone from family friends to total strangers, people that have never met him, just heard his story and they wanted to help.”

Men’s soccer standout Harrison Petts, a junior, has worked closely with Morris to train for his first triathlon. Morris has participated in many triathlons before and planned to race in the Hoosierman Triathlon along with his understudy, Petts.

Petts said his original goal was to beat Morris in the race. Now, he wants to win it for the sidelined trainer.

Like her husband, Christa was touched by the support she and her husband have received.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we have no idea how we can thank everybody for everything that they’ve done,” she said. “To have so many people behind your back, it’s unbelievable.”

Morris said Christa has been by his side ever since the accident and returned to work for a few hours Monday. His children have also been able to visit him on occasion.

“I never had to help Tom with anything,” Christa said. “Tom was always helping me. He was always my rock. Being on the other side knowing I had to be his rock, that’s the difficult part. But just being around him and being around his energy and his positive spirits makes you feel good. He shows you he’s gonna be OK.”

The true meaning of teamwork

While Morris is putting extra work into his rehab, he is getting a direct boost from athletes he has mentored, particularly IU soccer’s Petts and Konstanski. The two, like so many other supporters, want to help Morris back on his feet as quickly as possible.

And the soccer standouts are interacting with Morris the way they’re used to — by pumping him up to push harder and harder through his rehab.

Morris was hired as an assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2010 and works directly with the men’s soccer and women’s basketball programs, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services Jeremy Gray. Morris has also worked with track and field.

Morris was hired as an assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2010 and works directly with the men’s soccer and women’s basketball programs, according to Assistant Athletic Director for Broadcast Services Jeremy Gray. Morris has also worked with track and field.

“The soccer players have been amazing,” Christa said. “They came up during rehab, pumping him up and making him work harder, so that’s been great. There’s always someone from IU in Tom’s room, everyday. The Hoosier family has been outstanding.”

Copyright © 2012 Indiana Daily Student