Gracie Morris Injured And Out For The Entire Track Season - Still A Girl On Fire

The 2018 track season just started and between last weekend and this upcoming weekend, it's the beginning of the season for everybody.

Almost everybody. Although, it's just starting for most, it's already over for one high profile Texas athlete.

That one person is Gracie Morris.

She hasn't ran a track meet fact, she hasn't even practiced yet and the defending UIL 5A 800m champ's season is already over.

How can your season be over before it even starts? Well, that is the work of one of the few ugly parts of our sport -- injury.

Where cheers and jeers of an 800m state championship and a runner-up finish in the 1600m last year was the reality for the Aledo freshman, on this day the only thoughts and reality of a sophomore track season with any chance to run rely on the hopes of being able to heal and rehab.

Just three months ago, in November, all was good in the world of Morris as she and her twin brother had just finished a successful day at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock for the state cross country meet. Twin brother Graydon Morris had run an outstanding race to win the UIL 5A state title over the 5K race. Gracie had run an excellent race placing third only to be beaten by two of the best distance runners not only in Texas but nationally. Now, the focus would be on post season national level runners that only elite distance runners dare attempt.

That is when the devastating news was about to crash Morris' world. Morris would enter the Foot Locker South Regionals to run for the chance to qualify for the Foot Locker Nationals, one of the meets that boasts the best and most talented individual cross country runners in the nation.

The Morris family took the trip out to McAlpine Greenway Park in Charlotte, NC for the race. Morris would warm up to prepare for the 5K race and get ready for the challenging weather conditions and course. 

About a mile into the race, Morris was running down a steep hill and felt an excruciating pain in her foot.

"I first started to notice the pain back in March, but it always felt like it would go away when I would run, so I just ignored it," said Morris. There she was, in November, after completing the rest of track season after March when she first felt a pain and a complete cross country season, that pain had now become a 75% fracture to the Navicular Bone in her foot. Yes, 75% fractured.

"I knew there was something seriously wrong with my foot," Morris said.

"She didn't want to stop. A family friend, Mr. Ron Dennis saw her face and realized something wasn't right," Mrs. Lisa Morris said. Mr. Dennis who is from Fort Worth was in Charlotte to watch his son Whit Dennis who was also competing. "Mr. Dennis is hardcore, and not the quitting type, but he saw her and  knew something was wrong. He told her it was OK to drop out and that is what she needed to hear. It's like she didn't know what to do and stopping just didn't register to her that it was an OK thing to do."

"She made a big girl choice to stop. If she didn't stop she would have broken her foot. I thank Mr. Dennis for telling her to stop."

Mr. Dennis wasn't the only Texan to see Morris drop out of the race with the injury. Southlake Carroll coach Justin Leonard who has coached many elite runners over the years including last year's Boys Foot Locker Nationals winner Reed Brown was also a witness. Coach Leonard knows high caliber athletes, he knows when they're injured, and he knows who to send them to. He gave the Morris' the contact information to a doctor, one of the best doctors in the Dallas Metroplex as well as nationally, Dr. Robert Fowler. Dr. Fowler is an accomplished sports medicine doctor who has worked with the Dallas Cowboys. "Coach Leonard said text him that day and we did. Dr. Fowler texted back on Sunday when we got back home and we were in his office on that Monday and that's all thanks to Coach Leonard."

"She made a big girl choice to stop. If she didn't stop she would have broken her foot. I thank Mr. Dennis for telling her to stop."

Mrs. Lisa Morris - Gracie Morris' mother

That Monday, Dr. Fowler and Morris had a consult and ran tests. During the consult, Dr. Fowler realized how elite of a runner Morris is and how much passion and how intense she is about running.  He also saw how severe things were with her foot. "When Dr. Fowler came back with the results, it was sad. His whole demeanor changed and Gracie knew it wasn't going to be good news." 

When Dr. Fowler returned, he informed the family what the options were. "It was either be in a boot for months and she still may have had to eventually have surgery or go ahead and get the surgery. So, we decided it was best to go ahead and have the surgery." Knowing how elite of an athlete Morris was he recommended one of the finest surgeons to the Morris'. "Dr. Fowler recommended foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Brian Straus who had also worked with professional athletes and with the Dallas Mavericks."

"She thought life was over as a runner," Mrs. Morris said. 

"It's been very tough. When I first learned about it, I thought it was the end of the world. I just started to see all of the goals I had set for this track season just start to crumble, but after a couple of weeks of that I started to realize it's kind of a good thing that it happened to me because it made me realize that there is a difference in the pain of running with an injury. It also made me realize that taking breaks from running is extremely important so you don't get hurt and I also realized how much I truly enjoy the sport of running."

"Gracie is a beast, she is amazingly strong physically and mentally. Once she got over the initial hit, she was like let's do this and see when we can get this started," Mrs. Morris said. 

Despite how strong Morris is, the surgery put her on the shelf for a while. "I ended up having to get two screws put in my foot and then I was on crutches for 6 weeks." Morris, who is used to jogging and running from here to there was now on crutches and in a walking boot.

"After my surgery, I was unable to do any type of exercise for about a week and a half.  It was one of the hardest weeks I've ever been through mentally, but one set back in high school isn't going to ruin my future career in running.  As the doctor said I could start biking (stationary), swimming, and lifting weights. I've been at the gym almost everyday since." 

Today marks the ninth week after Morris' surgery. It's been six weeks since she's used crutches and two weeks since she she was last in the walking boot. It makes you wonder if she will be able to make a return this season.

Her brother Graydon suffered an injury last year after cross country that had him out for the majority of the season. Graydon ran an indoor meet last January, but then was sidelined and left or rehab and recovery, but he was cleared in time for district.

That is the magic date. If cleared to run in district, that could buy Morris time to train and get into enough  fitness to make it to state and give it a shot to defend her state title. 

Morris does draw inspiration and hope from her brother's experience. "Graydon's injury from last track season does give me hope because he was out almost all of last track season but he still ended up getting 2nd at state in the 3200m and then later that year in XC he was the 5A state champion and finished 2nd at Footlocker nationals."

So, you say there's a chance!?!?

Morris said, "It's very unlikely that I will be able to compete this track season because the healing process is very long and I don't want to push anything too soon and then have to sit out even longer. The minimum time for my recovery is three months, but I'm not sure if I will even be back by then I'm still a month away from my next MRI -- we will see how it goes from there."

"I was really looking forward to this indoor season because of how well I had been doing at practice but sitting out and watching all of my friends and other runners do so well is really making want to take my recovery seriously and get back as fast as I can, but without anymore setbacks."
Mrs. Morris doesn't have anything but admiration for her daughter's ability to deal with the tough times. "She's just a beast. She's in the gym getting stronger, she's ripped."

It's not just the physical strength that impresses her. The way Morris has dealt with the injury, being placed on the shelf and restricted from training and almost anything physical has impressed mom. Then there is watching her twin brother have tons of success at a national meet and then running international to represent our country. All Morris could do is sit and cheer, incapable of earning the opportunity to do the same herself, and that doesn't include watching the 2018 track season as someone will get the opportunity to win a state title that could be hers...again.

Tomorrow, the Morris' will find out when they get to begin rehab and then one day, hopefully soon she'll be able to run again.

Mrs. Morris said, "All I can think of is Alicia Keys' song "This Girl Is On Fire." Those lyrics, the whole song -- that's Gracie!"

You can try but you'll never forget her name
We got our feet on the ground
and we're burning it down
Got our heads in the cloud
and we're not coming down
Nobody know she's a lonely girl
and it's a lonely world
'Cause they can see the flame that's in her eyes
Watch her when she's lighting up the night
This girl is on fire