‘Just swim’: UNF swimmer brings home silver

Lauren Fox, Managing Editor

Morgan Ray, 19, has brought home a silver medal in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke after representing Team USA in the 2022 Para Swimming World Championships on June 17 in Portugal.

The University of North Florida sophomore nursing student set a new American record for the 100-meter breaststroke in April and was named the first male alternate for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Team. Now, he has his sights set on competing in Paris for Team USA in 2024.

“I’m not going to limit myself. I want to do this for as long as I can,” said Ray on his future athletic goals.

Before he was chasing Olympic medals, Ray was chasing his older brother Mason, who he said got him into swimming when Ray was six. Ray said he always wanted to catch up with his brother, and his brother pushed him to become a better athlete, even if he didn’t always want him to. 

Morgan Ray raises his fists in the air in victory, smiling with a silver medal around his neck. text reads: first worlds medal feeling!
Morgan Ray celebrates winning silver in a post. Screenshot courtesy of Morgan Ray.

Ray was diagnosed with Achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism, which he said made him feel like an underdog. He remembers lining up for sports like soccer and basketball and seeing the other kids on the team assume he would be easy competition. He said this drove him to prove others wrong and excel as an athlete.

“I always had to work harder than most people, just because I had to play the catch-up game, and that really builds a lot of my character and my work ethic. Not settling for just the bare minimum, going beyond that and pushing the line,” Ray said. 

Ray’s work ethic brought him to competitions in Singapore, Peru, and now Portugal. Upon his arrival in Lisbon for the 2022 Para World Championships, Ray tested positive for COVID, forcing him to miss some of his events. After a few days, he was able to get cleared for competition and place second in his best event. 

Now, Ray continues training in hopes of rebreaking his 100-meter breaststroke record and making it on the Paris Team. He said he is also working on learning to enjoy the sport again. 

During COVID, Ray explained that the postponement of the Tokyo Paralympics and the need to train without his team in order to social distance took some of the joy out of swimming. He spent COVID training alone in his backyard pool, saying that swimming started to feel like “a drag” without the support of his team. 

Since COVID restrictions have eased, Ray and his coach have worked on simplifying the sport for Ray to get his mind back into it. Now, he follows a simple motto: “just swim.”

“The biggest thing that helped me move forward with swimming was just having fun with it again,” Ray said. “Just throw away all the what-if and what-happens and just swim.”

Wearing a black swim cap and goggles, Morgan Ray stands on a diving block
Morgan Ray prepares to start a race. Photo courtesy of Morgan Ray.

Because his diagnosis often causes pain in his back and joints, swimming felt like a natural fit for Ray because the water sport’s “weightless buoyancy” helps alleviate pressure on his joints.

“People with my diagnosis often suffer from back problems and spinal issues, and so it’s a lifelong sport, and I love doing it,” Ray said. 

Ray’s “lifelong sport” started when he was six years old, and a family friend who also had Achondroplasia won a gold medal for swimming in Beijing. 

“She came over to my house when I was six and put the medal around my neck, and it’s pretty cool because she shared the same diagnosis as me, and she was able to go that far,” Ray said. “That, and with the help of my brother, I set forth on making my goals.”

Training with the Jacksonville team, the Bolles Sharks, Ray continues to work hard with his sights set on Paris in 2024 while also completing a degree at UNF.


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