Morris runs through pain for research

Sunday, October 30, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lisa Morris is accustomed to working through pain.

Morris, a Missouri volleyball player from 1998 to 2002, had multiple serious injuries during her time at MU. Morris sat out her freshman year while recovering from a tumor that had been removed from her left tibia before coming to MU. During her junior year, Morris was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, which caused her to have a rib removed.

As if those two injuries were not bad enough, during her senior year Morris pulled a muscle in her abdomen and tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee. Despite her injuries, Morris was named All-Big 12 Conference in 2000 and a Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2001.

After college, her health problems continued. Morris, now 25, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in January 2004.

The arthritis caused Morris such extreme pain that at times she did not have the strength to tie her shoes, wash her hair, or leave her bed. Now, thanks to the 16 pills she takes a day and a weekly shot, she says her pain is limited.

“The injections make the difference,” Morris said. “But it is the combination of pills and the injection that allows me to live a kind of normal life.”

Morris is once again overcoming pain, this time while raising money for arthritis research.

Morris and her boyfriend, Ryan Falkenrath, will run the Dublin Marathon in Ireland on Monday as part of the “Joints in Motion” program.

Joints in Motion is sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation. Participants raise money and take part in a run, walk, or marathon. For the Dublin Marathon, Morris and Falkenrath had to raise $4,200 each.

Morris found out about the program in January and immediately knew she wanted to do it.

“It is the best way I know to help find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis,” Morris said. “Running a marathon is a way prove that arthritis isn’t taking control of my life and that I’m keeping my arthritis under control.”

To raise the money, Morris and Falkenrath collected donations from family, friends, and co-workers. They also collected $500 from a Texas Hold’em poker tournament they hosted at their house in Olathe, Kan.

Falkenrath, who has dated Morris for two years, decided to train with her because she was so excited about running the marathon.

“It sounded like something fun and rewarding, so I decided to do it with her,” Falkenrath said.

The couple trains four times a week, running anywhere between 20 and 36 miles.

“My training is going great,” Morris said. “I am very fortunate running agrees with my joints for now.”

Morris has had arthritic flare-ups while training, but said they have been manageable.

Although Morris would like to run more marathons, her knee doctor is skeptical because she has had two knee surgeries.

“My knee surgeon didn’t want me to do it,” Morris said. “He said I could only do one marathon, so if I’m only going to do one and it was going to be a big one.”

Last year the Dublin Marathon had 8,510 finishers.

Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow is amazed that Morris can run a marathon with such a severe case of arthritis.

“I think it is great that she is doing that,” Kreklow said. “There is a lot of people that would be going through the things that she is going through right now; there is a lot of people that would feel sorry for themselves. They would find a whole lot of ways to kind of shrivel up, and Lisa is not the one to do that. She is the one to get out and get after it.”

Kreklow said he isn’t surprised that Morris is doing Joints in Motion because she is the type of person who makes the best out of bad situations. He said that he saw her overcome so many setbacks while playing at MU.

“I think this is the way she keeps herself from getting down,” Falkenrath said. “She has always had injuries and could get back on court but this is different. This is her way of defeating the disease.”

Morris was training for a half-marathon in November of 2003 when she started to have foot problems. Doctors put a boot on one foot to help solve the problem, but the pain then switched to her other foot. The pain continued, and eventually she was recommended to a rheumatologist. Morris was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which, according to the Arthritis Foundation’s Web site, is a chronic disease that can lead to long-term joint damage. The joint damage causes chronic pain, and in Morris’ case it has caused her to lose full use of her right elbow.

Because Morris can no longer fully extend her right arm, she can’t play volleyball or basketball.

Morris and Falkenrath leave for Dublin on Saturday. They will be in Ireland for one week. After running the marathon, the couple plans to recover for a day before traveling to Belfast, Ireland, where Morris will meet a pen pal that she has had since seventh grade.

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