School: Central Bucks West
Cross Country, Winter Track, Spring Track
Favorite athlete: Sanya Richards-Ross
Favorite team: U.S. Olympic Team
Favorite memory: The 2011 William Tennent Invitational during my junior year. I finished fifth overall in the junior varsity race, ran my personal best time, and earned a spot on varsity for the SOL Championships.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: It was my sophomore year and we were boarding the bus to head to the Winter Meet of Champions. I missed the bottom step of the bus and completely wiped out on the stairs. The bus driver looked down at me and said, ‘Well, I certainly hope you’re not in the hurdles.’
Music on iPod: Pop music from the 80s, 90s and today
Future plans: After earning an undergraduate degree at a competitive university, I plan on being accepted into a Physician’s Assistant program.
Words to live by: ‘It’s not how many times you fall down but how many times you get back up.’
One goal before turning 30: I want to have traveled Europe.
One thing people don’t know about me: I am a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Ancient Egypt.
By Mary Jane Souder
A.J. Morgan’s resume is an impressive one.
But it’s not the fact that he’s an Eagle Scout or boasts a dazzling 4.27 grade point average that sets the Central Bucks West senior apart. Rather it’s the character he displayed when faced with the kind of adversity that would have prompted most athletes to at least entertain thoughts of walking away.
That, however, was never a consideration.
Instead of sitting out the season to recuperate after undergoing surgery on Aug. 25 of last year, Morgan elected to compete in last fall’s cross country season.
“Most kids would just be content to throw in the towel and say, ‘Well, it’s right at the beginning of the season, I won’t do cross country,’ but he did the opposite,” coach Greg Wetzel said. “He totally stepped up for us, and he fought and fought and fought. A lot of it was behind the scenes.
“He was the 12th man our first meet, the 10th man the next time, and he clawed his way up into our top five by the end. “
Morgan’s ordeal began last May when he could not shake the nausea that plagued him for several months. He sat out the SOL Championships, and by the beginning of June, he also had an aching sensation that would not go away.
“In my lower right back, I got this throbbing – it felt like I was being stabbed,” Morgan said. “I was so nauseous that just looking at food made me want to (throw up).
“Gall bladder disease runs in my family – no one in my mom’s family has their gall bladder, so I thought it might be my gall bladder. The pain didn’t go away. It just got worse. It was constant discomfort. I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t lay down, I couldn’t really do anything.”
Morgan may have been in pain, but he continued to train with his cross country team, all the while undergoing a series of tests that were inconclusive.
An ultrasound suggested Morgan had a kidney stone. An ensuing CAT scan confirmed it was not a kidney stone but rather Morgan’s appendix. Since Morgan was only 16, surgery – according to a surgeon at a local hospital – was not an option.
“The surgeon said, ‘The pain is not lower right quadrant pain, which is where your appendix is, so it’s probably not an appendicitis,’” Morgan said. “I also got blood work, and my white count was fine, so I didn’t have an appendicitis. They said I should go to the emergency room if it gets worse. We ended up in the ER on Sunday.”
Medication helped alleviate some of the symptoms, and two days later, Morgan was visiting a gastroenterologist at CHOP. This time the possibility of an ulcer or crohn’s disease was raised, and Morgan was instructed get a dreaded Upper GI Series.
“It was horrendous,” he said. “For two weeks, I was messed up from the barium. I had severe cramping, and in the meantime, I still had this pain and nausea that wouldn’t go away.
“They got the tests back and said, ‘You don’t have an ulcer, you don’t have crohn’s disease. We don’t really see anything on the test.’ At this point, they were ready to tell me I had a virus and I would have to wait it out.”
Morgan endured the pain and nausea through all of July, continuing to run with the cross country team.
“It was a really good stress reliever because it was something I could control, and I enjoyed it,” Morgan said. “All the medication and not knowing what was wrong with me – it was nice to have something I could do.
“As summer went on, I could do less and less because the pain got worse and my ability was limited.”
Finally, in early August, it was determined that Morgan would undergo laparoscopic surgery on Aug. 25 to remove his appendix.
“Literally the day before surgery I was at cross country practice, but I couldn’t really do anything except warm up and cool down with the team because I couldn’t run,” he said. “I remember waking up from surgery – I was on pain and nausea medication, and I said, ‘This is the first time in three-and-a-half months that I haven’t been nauseous or had pain.’ I was so happy. The soreness from the surgery kicked in eventually, but it was a different pain, and it was so much better.
“They looked at my appendix and realized I had a stone in my appendix. They think my appendix was having spasms to try and get it out. Not only did I have that, but my appendix was flipped up underneath my kidney pointing up to my liver. It was in a different spot than it normally should be which is why I never had the typical appendix pain.”
Two weeks after undergoing surgery, Morgan began training with his cross country team again.
“Mr. Wetzel told me that he thought I would be able to make it on varsity, which is the top seven runners – even with all of this going on,” Morgan said. “That first day of practice, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do this. How am I going to get on varsity when everyone has been perfectly healthy all summer? This is impossible.’
“I decided to take it in stages, and I broke it down. The first race I ran was 20:50. I was 23rd out of 25. Each week it got a little better.
“It still really hurt, especially after I was through running, but I kept improving, and I slowly made my way up to the top 10.”
Morgan, who has been competing in track since his CYO days with Our Lady of Mount Carmel, had a breakout performance at the William Tennent Invitational when he posted a time of 17:54, a two-minute drop from his race three days earlier. His time at the league meet was 17:39, and Morgan saved his best for last, turning in a time of 17:32 in districts to finish fifth on his team and scoring points for the Bucks.
“It was an incredible moment after all that I’d been through that I was able to do that for the team,” Morgan said. “I’m a very spiritual person, so I knew God was with me every step of the way, and He wants me to be happy. If I didn’t keep a positive attitude and think, ‘Yes, I can overcome this’ – then it would have been a very hard road for me to follow.”
This fall, Morgan is one of the top runners on a young West squad.
“He’ll probably be anywhere from our second to our fifth runner,” Wetzel said. “We have some outstanding freshmen that are contributing, and he’s been a really good mentor and role model to them.
“He’s a very quiet kid, but what I really like about him is he speaks up when it matters. That’s very outside of his comfort zone, which is what’s so impressive about it, and when it comes to standing for what’s right, it’s absolute.”
Morgan’s medical experience last summer has played a role in his decision to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant. He has shadowed a pair of doctors as well as a nurse practitioner, and the experiences only confirmed his decision.
But for now, Morgan is just happy to be back competing with his cross country team.
“I forgot what it felt like to run and not have any pain,” he said. “I had three-and-a- half months of constant pain and nausea and then almost a year of recovery. To be able to run and not be doubled over at the end or in pain, it’s unimaginable.
“Not only can I work toward erasing last year, I can also help the younger kids and show them what cross country is and help them achieve their goals as well.”
It would be difficult to find a better captain and mentor.