By Lee Benson
Deseret Morning News
A friend of a friend knows this guy, David Morris, who he says I should do a story on. He has some physical disabilities, I am told, but they don’t hold him back at all; he’s a regular guy who is an inspiration to everyone he meets.
So we set up an interview at the offices of Omni Brokerage, the investment real estate firm in the south end of the valley where Morris works. I arrive first, wondering exactly what disabilities we’re talking about here, and then Morris walks in and it’s obvious. He has short arms. His hands hang at chest level, about where your elbow should be.
“I have TAR syndrome. I was born with it,” Morris explains, anticipating my obvious first question as we shake hands. “TAR stands for a very complicated medical term.” (Thrombocytopenia with absent radius, to be exact, an extremely rare genetic condition with an incidence of just 0.42 per 100,000 live births. To get it is like hitting the Powerball lottery, only in reverse.)
TAR doesn’t just mean you go through life without forearms; it also condemns you to a low blood platelet count, meaning bleeding is hard to control and interior varicose veins can be a problem. And in Morris’ case it also means you are born without kneecaps, so your legs are slightly twisted and you run with a slight list
If you or I woke up tomorrow with TAR, we’d pull up the covers and refuse to get out of bed.
Not Morris. He’s taking a break from his duties as an accounting specialist at Omni for our interview. Then it’s back to the books. And after work, there’s no telling what he might do. Maybe play a rousing game of soccer, or hop on his bicycle with the specially equipped extra long handlebars for a ride through the woods, or do a little backpacking, or some noncontact kickboxing, or tackle a ropes course, or go skydiving.
Morris has done all of the above in his first 33 years, along with a whole bunch of other things a lot of people with regular-length arms and the normal allotment of platelets have not.
Not bad for a guy who can’t tie his own shoes.
“I can put my socks on. I’ve figured that one out,” he says. “But tying my shoes — I can’t quite stretch that far.”
As he says this, he casts a sly look down at his shoes. They have shoelaces, which are tied, but they are also slip-ons, which means he can take the shoes on and off without touching the laces.
Morris smiles. There’s more than one way to keep your shoes tied.
This is clearly a man happy in his own arms. In his view, life has not shortchanged him. “I’ve never really thought anything was different about me,” he says. “I’m sure it helped that I was born this way, that I thought this was normal. My parents (Paul and Sherry) always had the attitude of ‘Do whatever.’ I have a sister eight years older who also has TAR (her name is Kristy, she’s married and lives in Georgia). She’s amazing. She does everything. We just learned how to fall better.”
This isn’t to say Morris hasn’t seen more than his share of the inside of hospital rooms and had more than his share of blood transfusions. But it’s also to say that he’s an Eagle Scout, a high school and college graduate (Timpview High School and Brigham Young University), an avid recreationalist, an expert trumpet player and a full-on lover of life.
“I like to think that where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he says. “I used to say you could be anything you wanted to be, but I don’t say that any more because there are always going to be limitations. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut.”
He lets that statement hang in the air before adding, “You’ve got to be willing to adapt. And definitely do not feel sorry for yourself. Challenges are opportunities, not obstacles.”
Morris says all of this without a touch of self-pity and, to be honest, only because a journalist is firing questions at him at point-blank range.
He’d rather talk about BYU sports or about the big event coming up in his life in two weeks — his marriage to Katrina Kenison.
“She’s amazing,” he says. “I can’t believe how lucky I am.”
As our interview ends, he adds, without being asked and as a kind of postscript, “You know, I don’t get teased. I can only remember once when I got made fun of, and that was in junior high. I never feel like anyone’s staring.”
Staring, I find myself wondering after an hour with this guy, at what?