TURNING ADVERSITY INTO SUCCESS

You’re one of Wangaratta’s brightest young sporting lights. You have that natural ability to shine in any field, whether it be cricket, football or basketball.

At the age of just 16, when fear is a foreign object, the unimaginable happens. You’re thrown from the pillion seat of a dirt bike when its lights go out and it collides with a guide post.

Your back is broken. You are given the horrible diagnosis that you will never walk again.

In that moment, all of your sporting dreams are shattered.

Or are they ?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

In the year of his accident, Nick Morris took out the W.D.C.A’s 1986/87 Under 16 Cricketer of the Year Award. Sandy-haired, strongly-built and determined, he had already played senior cricket for Magpies.

Like all locals of potential, he had been invited to play in the annual Hatch Cup (Under 14) Carnival with Malvern, and the Dowling Shield (Under 16) competition with University.

It was on the suggestion of sporting legend, retired Federal Parliamentarian and avid junior coach, Mac Holten, that Wangaratta kids were guided down this path.

Show a bit, he would say, and you’ll be on an elite pathway. Headed to District cricket, if you wish.

Nick produced enough to indicate that he had a big future. A Dowling Shield innings of 116 he unleashed had been the highest of the series. He liked to play his shots, batted with flair and created an impression.

His footy involvement with junior league club Tigers had led to selection in the Ovens and Murray Schoolboys side, alongside his mate, Chris Naish. And, just for good measure, he had been playing basketball in the local comps since he was nine.

So, understandably, sport was a huge part of his life.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

It was a tear-jerking moment in that hospital room when Nick discovered that he would be unable to fulfil the potential on the cricket and football fields for which he had seemingly been destined.

But his spirits soon lifted and he undertook a Level One cricket coaching course – again at the urging of Mac Holten. His fine rapport with Wangaratta’s Junior Country Week cricketers was obvious when he assisted with their coaching a couple of years later.

It was great, people would say, that he can remain involved in sport in some small way.

But they underestimated the grit of the plucky youngster, who now viewed his paraplegia as little more than a setback on the road to success.

Wangaratta’s Michael McFawn, an experienced wheelchair basketballer and Paralympian, visited him in hospital and planted the seeds of a possible new career. Nick’s willingness to take on this new sporting challenge was to prove a vital factor in his rehabilitation.

Further, he was introduced to ‘Sandy’ Blythe, a kindred soul, whose promising football career, which had reached Teal Cup level, had been halted by a three-car collision. It had also left him a paraplegic.

Blythe was an integral part of Australia’s 1988 Seoul Olympic team and detected in Morris vital qualities which could enable him to reach the top in the sport.

Wheelchair basketball is played on standard courts and the only rule variation to the regular game is that the ball must be bounced after two pushes of the wheelchair.

Nick’s background in basketball proved beneficial. But he was in no doubt that his new sport was more difficult to master.

“There’s 10kg of metal under your bum to manoeuvre, besides needing the ability to play the game”, he said.

Learning to manipulate the wheelchair while controlling the ball was just like learning to walk all over again. It required a gruelling seven-days-a-week training regime, which included boxing and plenty of individual on-court work to refine his skills. And then, of course, heaps of team training.

He endured his share of disappointments before he was considered ready for top-flight competition.

It was a crushing blow when he was bypassed for the Barcelona Olympics. But he competed in the 1994 Edmonton world championships and finally achieved his goal by by winning selection in the ‘Aussie Rollers’ team fFullSizeRender (3)or the Atlanta 1996 Paralympics.

The Australians lost their first game to Spain, but didn’t lose another. In the semi-final they overpowered the U.S.A, who hadn’t been beaten in 20 years. Their opponent in the Gold Medal game was Great Britain.

It was an emotional and hard-fought affair. The boys in Green and Gold turned a 15-point deficit at the nine-minute mark into a resounding 15 point win.

The Aussies celebrated their 78-63 triumph with gusto. It was the nation’s first basketball Gold Medal at any Olympics or Paralympics.

Morris was a starting five guard and spoke in simple terms of his role in the team : “I’m like the back pocket player in footy and in offence my job is to break open the court for the bigger guys”, he said on his return home. “It’s an awesome honour to represent the country, but it’s a huge responsibility.”

It was of particular satisfaction to him that he shared gold with the captain, Blythe, who had, as much as anyone, been a guiding influence when he embraced the sport eight years earlier.

They were also part of the ‘Rollers’ team at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000.

Off the court, Nick continued to kick goals.

He graduated from RMIT with a degree in Human Movement, received an Order of Australia Medal in 1997 and an Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for his contribution to the sport.

As a co-founder – with David Goding – of the firm, Morris-Goding Accessibility Consulting, he sought to develop an improvement to the conventional wheelchair wheels. They came up with the ‘Vulcan’, an ergonomically designed one-piece aluminium wheel for use in general travel and sport.

Accessibility consultancy is now his full-time profession and passion and he has held various administrative posts, including membership of the International Paralympic Committee.

He has made 2 business trips to Azerbaijan in recent weeks at the request of their Government, which is hosting the European Games for the first time. Fitting in with this has been some stadium consultancy work for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games committee.

Nick is now based in St.Kilda with partner Tobi and two young kids, Lucy and Tom, and has an office in South Melbourne.

It has been some journey for the boy who grew up on the family property at Wangandary.

His determination to overcome adversity impressed everyone. It was masked by an easy-going manner, an air of confidence and an ability to easily relate to people.

This was best exemplified when he was at the High School, and doing work-experience. He put a group of kids, not much younger than him, in their place when he reckoned were trying to have a lend of him:

“Don’t bullshit to me, because I’m the king of bullshit”.
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