The Olympic Village in Tokyo was once again a successful arena for Oaks Christian School, as 2016 Oaks Christian Online (OCO) alumna Morgan Stickney collected two gold medals in early September, bringing the total Olympic medal count for the Lions to three.
Stickney won gold in swimming’s 400m individual freestyle in the Paralympics on Sept. 2 and was the anchor in the 4x100m medley relay on Sept. 4. With her two medals, she joins water polo gold medalist Amanda Longan, OCS Class of 2015, as the only two alumni to medal in the Olympics.
“All I can say is thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the amazing people in my life who helped me achieve this dream!” Stickney wrote on Instagram after her medal winning 400m freestyle race. “Never be afraid to dream BIG!”
Growing up as an able-bodied swimmer, Stickney ranked in the top-20 in the country at age 14 in the mile swim, with aspirations of swimming in the Olympic games. A broken bone in her foot that would not heal led to the removal of the bone. However, at the age of 20, pain medications greatly affected her day-to-day life, and fear of addiction, along with consultation with her doctors, led to the decision to amputate her left leg below the knee in 2018.
After having her surgery, Stickney was able to get off pain medication and get back to training, this time for the Paralympic games. She switched events, going from the mile to the 400m freestyle, and took immediately to the shorter distance. Eventually, she was invited to train at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
At the headquarters, she trained with able-bodied swimmers and Paralympic athletes alike. “Their jaws drop at some of the things that she is able to do,” John Payne, Stickney’s swim coach said in the New York Times of the able-bodied swimmers who train in the pool with Stickney. “They are hurting and suffering and she is right there with them, and in some cases beating them. We all get to learn from that. There is more to you than meets the eye.”
A year later, in 2019, Stickney experienced pain in her right foot that was eerily similar to that in her left foot prior to the amputation. After a visit to the doctor, she learned that she had a rare cardiovascular condition that blocked blood flow to her lower legs. After consultation and prayer, she made the decision to remove the lower half of her right leg and become a double amputee.
Stickney’s work ethic and determination got her to where she is. After the first surgery, she jumped back into the pool just three weeks after surgery. The same happened after the second surgery. “I don’t know how many people would put in the amount of work that I have,” Stickney told the Times. “A lot of people might think it has to do with talent. Honestly, it’s pure hard work that got me to where I am.”
That determination and work ethic did not begin and end in the pool. Long before she was winning gold medals, Stickney was already displaying the grit both in the classroom and in her faith.
“I had no doubt in my mind that she was as successful as she was at the Paralympics because I know that she will always put in the time and dedication it takes to be successful,” said Sarah Swisher, who taught Stickney chemistry as a junior and senior at OCO.
Stickney began attending OCO in 2014, before both amputations. She was in training for the mile swim and chose OCO because of the academic rigor and faith-based education.
As a student, Stickney was as diligent as they come. “She was always striving to grasp whatever new material we were learning,” said Swisher. “She always wanted to go above and beyond to make sure she was prepared for tests and quizzes, and really wanted to be successful.”
Samantha Farinacci also taught Stickney at OCO. Farinacci was the director of spiritual life while Stickney was at school, and taught upper division Bible classes. “Morgan was always very committed to her values,” Farinacci said. “She came into our program as a junior and immediately stepped into the community and was very involved.”
While at school, Stickney reached out to Farinacci to start a Bible study. Completely unprompted. “She wanted to help students who wanted to take their faith to a deeper level, so we started a discipleship club,” Farinacci. “It wasn’t really anything formal, but it really was a place for students to gather in a more focused way to explore their faith. She was the one who initiated it, and I was able to come alongside her to facilitate and support. She really is an incredible person.”
Even though the Paralympics are now over, life isn’t stopping for Stickney. She will have to return to the operating table to remove small screws in her bones that are released as her bones contract. She told the New York Times that her doctor “would have taken them out in March, but with the Paralympics approaching, he agreed to wait until the games were over.”
“When I’m done with this, I’m training for Paris 2024,” Stickney told the Times. “And I’ll have even bigger goals and dreams than I do now.”