After competing in gymnastics as a freshman at Stonewall Jackson, Kelly Morris was convinced by her father Steve to try high jumping at the end of the indoor track season.
In her first-ever meet, she won the Cedar Run District title and then went on to win the Northwest Region title. That spring, she repeated as district and region champion and finished seventh at the state meet. In all, she won seven invitationals in the winter and spring.
Now, if only her knees would hold up, who knows how far she can go?
“It just feels like my knees are just shattering,” said Kelly, who suffers from a condition called jumper’s knee that has been affecting both of her knees. She also ended up with a bad case of shin splints last season and was forced to quit training on the high school track.
“I have shin splints in both my shins and I started out just having just jumper’s knee in this [left] knee and then I somehow got it in this knee,” she said, sporting a brace on her left knee. “So basically the bottom half of my legs are in pain.”
The condition, which is an irritation of the patella tendon, has been exacerbated by the fact that she is still competing in gymnastics. But despite her rigorous daily workouts that last through the evenings, Morris has no desire to quit either sport.
“I never would want to stop track,” Kelly said. “Sometime, when I get really stressed, I say, ‘oh, I can’t do both.’ But then I always think about it and I’m like, ‘no, I’m doing gymnastics all my life’ and my team, I’m dedicated to them.”
“In some respects, [gymnastics is having] an adverse affect but in other respects, the gymnastics helps all the flexibility getting over the bar,” added Steve, who helps coach the Raider jumpers.
A routine day for Morris is comprised of practices in both sports followed by ice, ibuprofen and strength training at her home.
“I do high jump, I run over and do long [jump] and triple [jump],” Kelly said. “And then from there, I go right into gymnastics and they’re in the wrestling room at the time, so we do tumbling and floor routines. And then, we come out, set up the equipment and we do all the other events and that’s ’till 5 [p.m.] Right after that, I put ice on both my legs and then I go home and take ibuprofen, eat and strength-train my legs.”
Steve Morris has been an inspiration for Kelly. Her father high jumped, long jumped and triple jumped his senior season at McLean and then enlisted in the Air Force after high school. Steve never realized how important the sport would become in his life until Kelly came along.
“I was sort of a late-bloomer and it was sort of a learn-as-you-go kind of thing,” Steve said. “I think that’s why I enjoy coaching down here so much because it’s like reliving it all.”
Recently, Steve constructed a high jump pit in the back yard and is constantly trying to pick up new tips to help his daughter succeed at the sport. An avid weight-lifter, he has been helping his daughter to get stronger and set her goals high in track.
“My dad always encourages me,” Kelly said. “He’s like, ‘c’mon Kelly, two more weights, you can be state champion.’ It makes me do better and practice a lot more. That [winning states] is definitely a goal.”
Morris recorded a personal best five-foot, five-inch jump last spring at the Twilight Invitational at Potomac. After hitting 5-2 at the state meet, she tried to clear 5-4 on her next jump. She just missed, leaving her at seventh place instead of second.
“I got totally over it [the bar] and I didn’t kick my feet up enough and the bottom of my heel hit it and made it fall,” Kelly said. “It was wobbling and then it fell.”
Her goal is to hit 5-7 by the end of this spring. Steve is convinced she can hit 6-0 some day if she puts in the proper training and has a good day.
“Last year, we just worked on the basics because her knees and everything hurt,” Steve said. “You don’t want to throw too much at ’em right off the get-go. Right now, we’re working on some of the finer points. Dedication, how much she’s going to hit the weight room.”
Both Steve and Kelly see positive and negative effects from competing in both sports. Steve also believes the fear factor that comes from jumping over a bar has been lessened with Kelly’s participation in a sport like gymnastics.
“A lot of the kids are afraid of going over the bar and falling on their shoulders,” Steve said. “That’s a big hurdle to get over whereas in gymnastics, they are constantly falling off beams and bars from a young age. So she’s used to falling. Falling and tumbling is not a big deal.”
What is a big deal is competing in both sports. At least for now.
“I love gymnastics and it’s more of just like a fun thing,” Morris said. “It’s still really important but my main focus is high jump and all the other jumping.”