Feb. 11, 2015
By Mark Frego ’15
For a distinguished varsity athlete at Notre Dame, Emily Morris is surprisingly difficult to find.
It’s not that the senior shot putter isn’t frequenting the halls of the Coleman-Morse Center. As the home of the Academic Services for Student-Athletes office, the building is a campus feature for many athletes.
But Morris can actually often be found on the opposite side of the building from student-athlete services: tucked inside the spacious offices of Campus Ministry.
Talking with Morris, though, it’s evident that Campus Ministry has provided her with much more than just a cozy campus refuge.
Morris first became involved with Campus Ministry as a freshman through Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI), an interdenominational community of Christians that meets through weekly praise and worship services.
“It includes both Catholics and Protestants, so it’s a good mix,” Morris says. “There are student-led worship songs, and then a student gives a talk. It’s totally done by other students, which drew me in initially. I wanted to see other students who were going through similar things and really striving to live out their faith.”
Morris used ISI as a springboard to immerse herself even more fully in her Catholic faith during her sophomore and junior years. In addition to continuing with ISI, Morris took part in a vast collection of retreats and completed a number of courses centered on Catholic theology.
As a senior, Morris has transitioned from being an eager participant to a widely respected leader in Campus Ministry events. She is an intern for the Compass Freshman Formation program, an initiative that facilitates monthly large group meetings that help freshmen find their way during their first year at Notre Dame. Morris is among a handful of upperclassmen mentors who plan these meetings and head small discussion groups.
“[The Compass program] is a really cool way to stay connected with my own faith while I’m helping other people grow in theirs,” Morris says. “I enjoy walking through college life with people and trying to figure out what it all means.”
Morris pointed to her initial experience with ISI as a primary reason for choosing to get so deeply involved with the Compass program.
“There were a couple great upperclassmen in ISI when I was a freshman that I really looked up to,” Morris says. “They helped me to adjust and enjoy my freshman year. Because of them, I’ve always had a special place for freshmen.”
The internship requires 10 to 12 hours of Morris’ time per week, making her already-busy schedule a bit more hectic. She is adamant, though, that this extra time crunch is well worth it.
“Because I love what I do with Campus Ministry, I’m never down about having to go into the office,” Morris says. “I have a lot of friends in Campus Ministry, so this is my time where I get to see and connect with them. I don’t know if I would be as good at making time for that if I weren’t working there. It does get tough to juggle, but I just get in a rhythm.”
Morris’ commitment to faith shines in even the most mundane of her daily activities. Her teammates and coaches alike notice her remarkably strong convictions.
“Emily is probably the most giving and passionate person I know,” junior thrower Lena Madison says. “She definitely lives by Catholic Social Tradition.”
“It’s Emily’s faith that allows her to roll with the bad training days and not let them affect her long-term,” throwing coach Adam Beltran adds.
As Beltran insinuates, Morris’ journey at Notre Dame hasn’t been without bumps. A native of London, Ohio, she won the state championship in the shot put her senior year and enrolled at Notre Dame with lofty expectations.
A few subpar performances made her quickly question these visions. Beltran argues that Morris initially did not believe that she was good enough to compete for Notre Dame, an assertion she readily admits is true.
“Coming here and not making it to finals at meets and not even being the best on the team was really challenging,” Morris says. “I kind of had to make sure that I actually really liked track and wanted to continue to do it. It was definitely towards the end of my freshman year that I was in a rut.”
Morris dug herself out of this low place through small, calculated improvements – first breaking 13, then 14, then 15 meters. Soon enough, school records were within her reach. Towards the end of her junior year, Beltran noticed a change in her mental approach.
“Doing well for her was no longer measured by setting small new personal records,” Beltran says, “but by going after school records and competing at a national level.”
Morris qualified for the NCAA Championships in the spring of her junior year, breaking the Notre Dame women’s outdoor shot put record with a throw of 16.53 meters at the regional competition. This unprecedented success parlayed itself into high goals for her senior campaign.
“I knew that I really wanted to break the indoor record,” Morris says. “I wanted that to be the first step in an awesome season. That was my goal, to break the record and make it to indoor nationals this year and go into outdoor season really strong and ready to go.”
Morris made good on this dream in the season’s very first meet, at the Blue and Gold Invitational on Dec. 5, with a throw of 16.03 meters.
“We were coming off of a long week of conditioning and training and I was kind of sore,” Morris says. “My parents were coming to the meet, and I almost wanted to tell them not to come because I wasn’t feeling like I was going to throw very far. I got to the ring and my warm-ups were going well. I had to rely on the whole semester of training that we put in and had one really good throw.”
She stops and smiles.
“It was very gratifying. I don’t think when I got to Notre Dame, breaking a school record was anything I had my eyes on. It was just success in little increments, and I found myself close and having people around me telling me that I really could be successful if I really made that my goal and went after it.”
Morris’ teammates were elated to see her etch her name in the school record books.
“Breaking the indoor record is the ultimate goal,” Madison says. “She works so hard day in and day out, and to see her break the record was really inspirational.”
With much of the indoor season and the entire outdoor season yet to unfold, Morris will continue to strive for new heights.
“There is a lot of season left, and I know she will continue to push that mark and make it harder and harder for anyone that comes behind her to get her name in the record book,” Beltran says.
Beltran, a 15-year coaching veteran who calls Morris “among the top-five best athletes I have ever coached, male or female,” has been vital to her immense growth at Notre Dame.
“I know that so much of the success I’ve had is due to his coaching and the way he can just watch a throw and tell me what I did well and what I need to work on,” Morris says.
“He’s just so invested and really cares about us.”
Regardless of how high Morris and Beltran push her records in the remainder of her tenure at Notre Dame, the senior is at peace with the approaching conclusion of her sparkling career. After all, it should come as a surprise to no one that Morris holds aspirations that far transcend the sport of track and field.
Morris, a sociology major and peace studies and theology double minor, wanted to be a social worker upon entering college; nearly four years at Notre Dame have only intensified this desire to help others.
“I took a class here called ‘How to Change the World’ and just really enjoyed thinking about how we can make a difference,” Morris says. “I don’t want to continue to think about problems and what is going on; I want to take action.”
Morris is in the process of applying for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), which would enable her to complete a year of service living in community with other JVC volunteers. JVC assists the most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities, including the homeless and the elderly. Following this year of service, Morris plans to go into nonprofit work.
It is a career path unmistakably driven by her Catholic beliefs, and one that appears tailor-made for the most decorated women’s shot putter in Notre Dame’s history.
“She wants to make small differences in the world, because she knows that one small change in somebody’s life is a huge deal,” Madison says. “Everything with her is about the dignity of other people. As long as she is meeting that standard every day, I think she knows she is doing the best she can.”