Canton man continues triathlon quest

Morris travels to Atlanta with CNN Fit Nation
By Stina Sieg | Feb 13, 2012
Photo by: Stina Sieg Dr. Sanjay Gupta, left, is pictured with Canton resident Rick Morris, Center, and fellow 2012 CNN Fit Nation Triathlon participant Adrienne LaGier. See Monday's Mountaineer for a story about Morris and his teammates meeting Gupta and hiking Stone Mountain.

Editor's note: This is part one of a story on Rick Morris, a Canton resident currently training with the 2012 CNN Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge.

ATLANTA — Calling Rick Morris one of the “Lucky 7,” makes him sound as if he’s in a gang of cowboys or superheroes. But isn’t he? The Canton father of five and volunteer firefighter is part of a team trying to do one of the hardest things on earth: change.

As a participant in CNN’s 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge, he joined six other soon-to-be triathletes at the network’s headquarters in Atlanta last week. The team members got their moniker because they were picked from hundreds of applicants across the country all wanting to train with CNN for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Morris and the rest of the chosen few will compete in September alongside Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In addition to coaching, they’re receiving a huge amount of free gear, a free trip to the triathlon, as well as this trip to Atlanta and one to Hawaii.

For Morris and everyone else on the team, this first training session was one of the biggest reality checks so far on the long road to California.

As Morris waited to meet CNN trainers and fellow participants last Thursday, he looked excited, with maybe just a little uneasiness about his new-found fame simmering under the surface.

“I think that it’s an outstanding thing that Dr. Gupta and his team are doing this,” he said from his hotel lobby, “and I feel very fortunate to be selected.”

After spending a couple of minutes commending his local trainers, Waynesville residents and triathletes Bill and Susan Wilkins, he explained that while all the exercise ahead will be intense, two things made him more nervous. He imagined that quitting smoking and being in the public eye would probably trump training for upcoming half-mile swim, 18-mile bike ride and four-mile run.

“I think I’m just starting this journey,” he admitted.

People helping to make a Fit Nation

Luckily, he’s not going it alone. Within the next few hours, Morris saw just how many people are in his and his teammates’ corner. Soon, they’d be starting a weekend boot camp of sorts, but that first night was solely devoted to introducing the large group making this challenge possible. When the entire crew of producers and new athletes came together in a conference room, trainers April Burke and Laura Cozik painted a rich picture of the great metamorphosis that awaited the team. Burke, a lively and young 13-time Ironman competitor, promised that this experience would change them all, far beyond their bodies. Cozik, a spunky New Yorker who heads an all-female triathlon team, added that this sport is actually very “inviting.” She pointed out that the training is still tough, but that’s part of why it’s worth it.

“The more fear there is in something, the more hesitation, I think the greater the rewards,” she said.

CNN producers Roni Selig (who actually came up with the Fit Nation concept), Matt Sloane and Caitlin Hagan were also full of supporting, enthusiastic words, but it was really the “Lucky 7” themselves who were the most inspiring. Their stories were entirely different, but they all shared a breathtaking amount of determination.

The ‘Lucky 7’

Nancy Klinger, a sweet-natured Minnesota mom, was one of the first to speak in what ended up feeling like a group therapy session. She described how she’s out to change her life after the end of a long marriage and the death of a loved one. Carlos Solis, an elementary school teacher from southern California, talked of wanting to overcome his hereditary diabetes. Maryland journalism teacher and mother Adrienne LaGier said she wants to become a healthier version of herself before her upcoming wedding.

The room went silent as young Denise Castelli spoke of how a softball injury had recently led to the amputation of her leg.

After she lost her limb, “it was like my identity was gone,” she said. “For the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been trying to get that back.”

This triathlon is about becoming an athlete again, the New Jersey resident stressed.
For Glenn Keller, the real challenge is to finally put himself first. The heavy-set, quick-to-laugh Texas trucker and preacher had a way of charming everyone around him while being serious about his health risks. He’s finally ready to take care of himself, he said, and not just others.

“It has been such a challenge to come to grips with ‘This is for me,’’’ he said.
When it was Morris’ turn to talk about himself, he was open and honest, almost as if he were sitting at home and not in a nondescript conference room in a big-city hotel. He spoke poignantly about his wife and children. They are the reason he’s doing this, he explained.

“My fear is dying young and leaving them,” he said.

Compared to that, the swim, bike and run aren’t so scary, he continued. He has too many people counting on him to be frightened off by such things — especially now that the whole world is watching.

“I know it’s going to be tough,” Morris said.

As he spoke, it was clear he was accepting the challenge. With their nodding, laughter and occasional tears, it was obvious his new friends were, too. As their meeting wrapped up, everyone must have been tired from a long day of travel, but no one was complaining. Instead, they were bright-eyed and upbeat, if a bit overwhelmed by it all. More than anything, they looked ready to change.

Check out Wednesday’s edition of the Mountaineer for part two of this story, which includes the “Lucky 7” meeting Dr. Gupta and trekking up Stone Mountain. Wednesday’s edition of The Guide will include an interview with Gupta. Visit for participant blogs, photos and videos and for even more updates (also see info about Jeff Dauler, the radio personality and training triathlete who didn’t make the first meeting). On the Facebook page, also find workout routines and schedules for when Fit Nation participants will be featured on “Sanjay Gupta, MD,” at 7:30 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.