Running despite the risks

Kayla Morrison’s condition has not held back her ambitions as a runner

Kayla Morrison isn’t letting her condition keep her from running. She’s aiming to be a top-five runner with the WolfPack and wants to head to CIS nationals next year. (Tayla Scott/The Omega)

Kayla Morrison isn’t letting her condition keep her from running. She’s aiming to be a top-five runner with the WolfPack and wants to head to CIS nationals next year. (Tayla Scott/The Omega)

Despite being born with a condition that works against her, Kayla Morrison is determined to continue racing and improve her speed.

Morrison, 21, was born with the left side of her rib cage twisted and protruding. It’s something her doctors had never seen before.

“They’d seen people that have parts of the ribs stick out. They’d seen people with part of the ribs twisted in, but they’d never seen someone with both,” Morrison said. “I guess I’m kind of an anomaly with it.”

Morrison has been running since she was a child. In high school, she joined the track and field team and started racing.

When she was in Grade 12, she entered a race in Abbotsford, but she never got to finish it. While she was running, one of her twisted ribs slipped, possibly striking a nerve, and caused her to suddenly lose consciousness halfway through the race.

It was the first time her condition had caused her to pass out, but it wouldn’t be the last. Morrison experienced sudden loss of consciousness multiple times while working at a restaurant in Langley and once during class.

“When they slip it causes a lot of pain. Sometimes, if it hits a nerve or a muscle funny, then it causes me to pass out,” Morrison explained. “My body’s not meant for a runner. Everything is against me, but I like running.”

Morrison began physiotherapy to strengthen her back muscles. This helps hold her ribs in place and makes them less likely to slip, although the risk is always there.

After losing consciousness during the race, Morrison took three years off from running but got back into the sport when she joined the WolfPack in September. She was afraid her ribs would slip when she first started running again, but is confident in her rehabilitation.

“I’ve been working really hard. I do a lot of strength training on my back so my back’s actually pretty strong now,” Morrison said. “I know my body and now I know when I have a rib out. I know when it’s slipping, so I know when to stop.”

Another setback Morrison has to deal with is that her left lung is only partially developed due to her twisted rib cage.

“As a runner you want to be able to take a full deep breath. So that’s more of an issue than the actual ribs because I’ve been working on my ribs, but I can’t change the fact that I can’t take a deep breath,” Morrison said.

Morrison has met with physiotherapists, chiropractors and an osteopath for advice about her condition. She also has seen a surgeon in Surrey, who believes her rib cage can be reconstructed with surgery, preventing her ribs from slipping.

“It’s a very invasive surgery. It hasn’t been FDA approved yet so I’m still on a waiting list. It’s probably not going to be [approved] for a few years,” she said.

“It’d be nice to be able to be normal,” she said.

Despite her twisted rib cage, her partial lung and her three-year break from running, Morrison is faster than ever.

On Oct. 25, she ran a personal best in Abbotsford on the exact same course where she had lost consciousness three years before.

“It was kind of like redemption for me,” she said. “It was a good feeling to actually finish that race and do well and get a good time.”

Her goal is to be able to go to the CIS Cross-Country Championships next year. To accomplish this, she will have to be one of the top five female runners with the ‘Pack.

“I don’t know if it’s possible, but within the next year or so I want to be able to do a half marathon.”

Outside of running, she plans to pursue a career in mental health and hopes to stay in Kamloops, and will running and racing despite the risks.