How rugby sevens helped USA’s Kiki Morgan feel happy again after losing her mother

By Alex Dudley

To think, Kiki Morgan didn’t pick up a rugby ball until she was 17 years old. Now the American is one of the 24 US athletes who have been training full-time at their base in California. Morgan has come a long way since that first grasp of a ball during her studies at Brown University in 2012.

She was recently selected as one of the 15 unstoppable women in the sport, and she has been chosen to front a campaign that will be aimed at increasing the growth of the game on to a global playing base over the next 10 years. And, it should come as little surprise when you consider her back story during her early years in Rhode Island.

The narrative behind the success that Morgan has enjoyed has its roots in grief, which threatened to derail her life. She arrived in America aged just 18 months old, and by the time she was 10 her life was drastically changed after the passing of her mother, Karlene, following the diagnosis of ovarian cancer after she had become pregnant with Morgan’s brother. The effect of this on her life has been long-lasting, and the scars are still there.

In an exclusive interview with Rugby Pass, she said: “She was my form of strength, my confidant. I looked up to her as the strongest person I knew and to just watch her fade away before my eyes and then have no way of expressing that afterwards really caused me to close in on myself.

“I became very introverted and was very much living my life in my head. I was afraid of the world and afraid of feeling. I still don’t like reading books unless I knew it is a happy ending because life is sad enough. So why put myself through that in a story?”

It was eventually the sport that helped her escape, as she continued: “Rugby has changed that. I don’t need that form of escapism as much because I am happier. I am more present and enjoy every day.”

Morgan’s story is as heart-warming as you can get in the sport, but the transformation only come about through pure chance. She came from a background as a top-class track and field star, but the feeling that she would be bound for a life stuck at Pawtucket Island – just a few miles away from the house where she grew up in – was overwhelming.

Then came rugby. The sport saw her blossom. She said: “The reason people stick with a sport like rugby is because of the social aspect, because of their friends, because of the community. That was the reason I tried out rugby.

“When I first saw it, I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think I was strong enough or fast enough. But a friend of mine said, ‘You need to come out and try this sport with me, and I guarantee it will be the best decision that you ever make’.”

That taster of the sport was enough for Morgan, and she was hooked. She continued: “I tried it and loved it. But, if it wasn’t for my friends and their encouragement to try it; my life would have been completely different.”

She continued playing the sport, and after a while, her talent was undeniable. Morgan was invited to step into the representative circuit, but she was apprehensive about whether she would be good enough to make the grade.

She said: “A few months after I started playing, I went to a camp in Boston and the then USA head coach, Rik Suggitt was there. We had a nice talk, and after that camp, I got an invite from the Olympic committee to go to a US rugby camp. I thought it was a joke.”

Of course, it wasn’t, and her talents were about to be put on the global stage. She made her first appearances for the sevens side in 2016 during the Women’s Rugby Super Series; where her performances saw her awarded the Women’s Club 7’s Most Valuable Player and named in the USA Rugby Club 7’s Dream Team.

Morgan made her debut in the HSBC World Sevens Series during the Dubai leg in 2017, where she showed all her talent to help the USA finish second, and in the process cause a massive upset against the Black Ferns.

Her life was transformed after just picking up the ball; she got a feel for it, and her love for the game was instant. But not only has her ability within the sport grew, but she revealed that it has improved her as a person and taken her on a journey that she could never have envisioned after the passing of her mother, but the incentive to succeed has never been in doubt.

She said: “One of the only mementos I have left is her ID and I always carry that around with me so that she is physically always with me. Rugby is now full-time. I started in January of this year. I graduated with a degree in theatre and sociology, and I would have stayed in Rhode Island. I would have explored life there, but now there is so much more open to me.

“It is unbelievable. I have friends in Australia. I have friends in Japan, and I have seen the amazing buildings in Dubai. I have done things that I only thought were possible in movies.”

The script has all the capabilities of becoming even more significant, and her story could reach its pinnacle in next year’s Olympic Games following the USA’s safe passage through the world series.

However, Morgan hopes to encourage more women to get involved in the game. Her part in the global campaign “Try and Stop Us” was launched by World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, and Morgan will be a poster-girl in hoping to engage more fans and investors in the women’s game.

The 24-year-old continued: “As I was growing up there weren’t many female role models for me to look up to, especially in rugby because it was just starting out and gaining momentum. I didn’t know about the sport until I arrived at college, so sharing my story is not about me; it is about giving a voice to those who usually don’t get the chance.

“I’m unbelievably honoured, just meeting everyone and hearing their stories. It has inspired me.”

Morgan understands the importance of the campaign and her role in the continued success of the sport, and her story is one of the most moving there is in the sport. She is a picture-perfect role model for the game that it can help rebuild your life. There couldn’t be a more impeccable woman than Kiki Morgan to figurehead the movement.

Main photo: YouTube

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