Heard on Campus: Shawn Morelli at the Penn State Forum

November 28, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Retired U.S. Army Maj. Shawn Morelli presented "Don't Limit Your Challenges; Challenge Your Limits" during the Penn State Forum held Nov. 28 at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center at University Park.

Morelli, a 1998 Penn State graduate, talked about her struggles as a wounded veteran and her fight to recover from injuries sustained from an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The injury caused extensive damage to the left side of her body, including loss of sight in her eye, nerve damage and traumatic brain injury.  

"I do believe we have limitations, but I don't believe we should let them run our life."

— Shawn Morelli, 1998 Penn State graduate, retired U.S. Army major, and a Paralympian

At a low point in Morelli's life after her injury, she called her chaplain to watch her dog, explaining that she needed someone to care for her dog because she was going on a trip where her canine could not accompany her. Knowing full well that Morelli traveled everywhere with her dog, the chaplain was on his way to Morelli's house before they hung up the phone. Morelli called this insinuated suicide attempt "my greatest failure" because she would later recover, even though the hospital gave her a 50/50 chance of surviving.

Morelli credits her father for snapping her back to life saying, "Kid, what are you doing? You were given a gift. You were given a second chance."

With her father's advice in mind, Morelli's second lease on life came in the form of a bicycle. Purchased in a small shop, the bike would become her bridge between injury and recovery. Battling vertigo and the other injuries sustained during the IED explosion, it would take Morelli two years to become road-worthy on her new vehicle of choice. 

Fast forward years later, Morelli has cruised to wins in 14 national races, 11 world races, and has earned two gold medals as a professional cyclist. Morelli now has her sights set on the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. When asked what she thinks about when she competes, she talked about going to a dark place to win races.

"I go out there to crush others' hopes and dreams," Morelli said. 

She also offered advice to others struggling with challenges in their own life.

"I do believe we have limitations, but I don't believe we should let them run our life," said Morelli.

Morelli is currently a professional cyclist, Paralympian and TeamUSA national team member. According to a biography on teamusa.org, a 2009 trip to a local bike shop, and exposure to competitive cycling at the 2010 Warrior Games, helped her get into cycling. She broke the women’s C4 pursuit world record at the 2016 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships. She continued that success at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 where she became a two-time gold medalist on the track. 

The next Penn State Forum will feature Ron Haviv, photojournalist and co-founder of VII Photo Agency, speaking on "Shadow of Memory" on Dec. 5 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

The Penn State Forum Speaker Series is open to the public. Tickets are $25 and include a buffet lunch. Tickets may be purchased through the Penn State id+ Office, located at 20 HUB-Robeson Center. For questions, call 814-865-7590 or email idcard@psu.edu. For more information and a complete list of speakers, visit http://sites.psu.edu/forum/.

Last Updated November 28, 2018