This story appears in the April issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Hello, my name is Mallory Morris. I am a 24-year-old teacher's aide at the Zoo Sprouts Childcare Program at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas. I am also training to run the 100 meters, 400 meters and 4x100 relay at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi in March. That's 7,700 miles away from home, which seems like a lot. But then, I've already come a long way.
I guess you can say I was born fast. I was delivered on July 10, 1994, three days before my three sisters and brother. We were the first quintuplets born in the state of Kansas, but because we arrived three months prematurely and weighed between 1 and 2 pounds, we presented all sorts of challenges for the doctors and nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit. Our brother, Evan, died after just 17 days, and my sisters and I weren't able to come home until just before Thanksgiving.
That's a big holiday for our family. In fact, there is a sign that hangs on the wall of our kitchen in Manhattan that reads, "There is always always always something to be thankful for." It's our reminder that we owe so much to so many people.
The other day, I sat down to list all the things I'm grateful for. There's my family, especially my sisters, Kasey, Jordan and Holly, and my parents, Shawn and Stefanie, who bring love and order to our crazy lives. There's Dr. John Evans, who brought us into the world, and the many medical professionals who still look after us. There are the children at preschool, who bring me joy all day long, and the three dogs who welcome me home. Most of all, I'm thankful for just waking up every morning.
When I started the list, I didn't stop until I got to No. 30, and then I came up with a bunch more. Close to the top was Special Olympics, which has meant a whole new world for Kasey and me. We were born with intellectual disabilities, though Jordan and Holly were not. The person who introduced us to that world was Kim Schnee, a teacher we met during freshman orientation at our high school. She was also a Special Olympics volunteer, and she knew the organization could help bring out our potential as students, athletes and citizens.
We started out playing volleyball, but soon we were competing in basketball, softball, swimming and track and field. Those sports later gave us the confidence to visit schools as ambassadors for Special Olympics to open people's minds. Some of our talks have to do with "Spread the Word to End the Word," a campaign to show people how hurtful the word "r‑‑‑‑‑" is in everyday speech. We're challenged, that's all; we can overcome those challenges.
Kasey had to have heart surgery when she was little, and we both had to have eye surgeries, but through it all, we had each other and the love of family. So you can imagine how joyful we were when we got to be bridesmaids at Jordan's and Holly's weddings.
When I look at pictures of myself growing up, I often smile. Maybe I should say "growing down." When I started putting on a lot of weight six years ago, my parents took me to see a doctor, who discovered I had diabetes. So I had one more challenge to conquer. I did that by changing my eating habits and cutting way back on my sugar intake, and I lost 40 pounds. That helped me become fast enough and strong enough to become an elite runner.
Last year Kasey and I competed in basketball for Kansas at the Special Olympics in Seattle, and even though we had a very big fan club, our team fell a little short. We were both nominated for the World Games, but it just so happened that I was chosen because there was an opening in my strongest sport: track. We've been kidding Kasey about hiding her jealousy, but she has been a great sport about it-she's been pushing me every step of the way in my training, and she'll be alongside me in Abu Dhabi.
I have to thank my coach, Tonia Lee, for driving all the way from Topeka every week to make me faster. And the folks at Maximum Performance in Manhattan for providing us with the equipment and facilities we use. And the parents of the children at Zoo Sprouts, who are raising funds for my trip to Abu Dhabi by selling "Team Mallory" T-shirts. Then there's the U.S. team track coach Jamie Schnee-the daughter of the woman who introduced us to Special Olympics.
Like the sign says, There is always, always, always something to be thankful for. And my depth of gratitude is as endless as my list.