Evan Morrison, Swimming Before He Walks
That comment is made frequently about good swimmers by their less aquatically-oriented friends on terra firma.
The friendly face and graduate of Princeton University has turned his life-long passion for swimming into a lifestyle…and bringing many more like him along for the ride. Whether it is bumpy and lumpy in a rough ocean, or cool and calm in a tranquil lake, Morrison brings youthful energy and a sharp intellect to the sport where he feels so comfortable.
And with good reason.
“I was born with a dislocated left hip, medically known as congenital hip dysplasia.
With a timely diagnosis, this wouldn’t have been a huge issue, but unfortunately the problem went unnoticed for the first 18 months of my life. By that time I had done considerable damage to the joint. I had four major hip operations by the time I was 12.”
The fortitude that Morrison demonstrated as a marathon swimmer in the Swim the Suck, Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, Catalina Channel, and Ederle Swim was also demonstrated early in his life. “Swimming was one of the few activities where I wasn’t limited by my hip. I learned to swim at the age of 3 and started competitive swimming at 7.”
But the road to the marathon world took an unanticipated turn. “The operation when I was 12 allowed me to live fairly normally through middle school, high school, and college. I could not play any contact sports or do extended running, but I could get around reasonably well, and most importantly – I could swim.
In my mid-twenties I started having increasing pain due to the deterioration of cartilage in my hip. I started off with ibuprofen, then went to increasingly massive doses, then prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex. But then I couldn’t take it anymore and went to the student health center at Stanford. Within a few weeks, I had a surgery scheduled at Stanford Medical Center for a total hip replacement. This happened when I was 25.”
After the surgery, Morrison returned to swimming with the Stanford Masters Swim Team even before he was allowed to walk. His passion knew no boundaries. “I used my crutches to get to the edge of the deck, then sort of flopped into the pool. It was great,” he recalled with great appreciation.
After his road back to recovery, he stuck with the pool for another three years. But then he discovered the open water and has never looked back. “My hip feels great. No contact sports for the rest of my life, but I’m pain free and can walk, hike, and swim to my heart’s content.”
To a certain extent at least. For he acknowledges and accepts the sacrifices that comes with marathon swimming. “Like any ultra-endurance sport, pain is just part of the game when you are swimming across a channel. Because pain is inevitable, the question becomes: How do we deal with it? How do we manage it? I see an interesting subtext that is actually quite common among life-long marathon swimmers: masochism or the pleasure in pain.“
For someone who had to deal with so much pain in his young life, Morrison remains profoundly observant. “Masochism is a great strategy for dealing with the pain of a marathon swim. If we embrace pain as inevitable and even – dare I say – pleasurable – then it cannot defeat us.”
In a special way that distance swimmers can appreciate, Morrison relishes in the realm of pain, willingly accepting and embracing discomfort levels as a competitive age-group swimmer. “In my youth I trained with a talented, tough group of distance swimmers including [Olympian] Mark Warkentin. We learned early on the rewards of hard work, and came to see pain in almost a positive light. [Therefore] my transition to marathon swimming as an adult was relatively smooth, in large part because I approached swim training with a certain sense of masochism from an early age.”
It’s all part of the pleasure of open water swimming.
Top photo by John Hughes shows Evan Morrison swimming near the Verrazano Bridge during the Ederle Swim. Lower photo by Anne Cleveland shows him walking with John van Wisse (Australia), Miguel Arrobas (Portugal) and Ollie Wilkinson (Australia).
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association