Growing up in Southern California, it seemed only natural that John Morgan learned to swim in the Pacific Ocean.
“I lived close to the beach and my parents took me to the ocean when I was a baby,” Morgan said. “I loved the beach and water. I could hear the waves from my house. I learned how to swim on the beach and at the pool. I was on a swim team at a local club when I was 10. I was also a junior lifeguard.”
Morgan’s father was from Argentina and the family moved there in the mid-1970s. Morgan swam competitively there as well, completing a 20-kilometer swim. But one day when working out, Morgan was using a springed exerciser that snapped. It impacted his face with such force that he was left with two detached retinas.
Morgan’s eyesight deteriorated. Even after four surgeries he could only to see the difference between black and white. Eventually he was totally blind.
“I was convinced that was it for my athletic career,” Morgan said. “I had spent two years recuperating from surgical operations and, for me, it was a particularly difficult rehabilitation. I thought it was over for me.”
As his eyesight deteriorated, Morgan stayed away from the pool. He was afraid of the water. But one day his parents read about a swim meet for handicapped athletes and convinced Morgan to attend. Hearing the sounds of similar athletes in action, Morgan was hooked. “I got back in the pool that day,” he said.
It did not take long for Morgan to figure things out, quickly relearning his strokes. He enrolled at Golden West Junior College in 1982 and joined the swim team, coached by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shirley Babashoff. Two years later, he competed in the International Games for the Disabled (now called the Paralympics) in New York and won five gold medals. In 1988, Morgan skipped the Paralympics while working on his master’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley. In the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games, Morgan was dominant, winning eight gold medals and two silver medals.
Among Morgan’s other accomplishments, he did a 58-kilometer river swim, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, hiked the Appalachian Trail and participated in tandem cycling. Perhaps it’s not a surprise that his second ride was 100 kilometers long.