Kiani Morisi, a girls swimmer at Massapequa, said she was born with a heart defect and had open-heart surgery at six months old.
Now a freshman, her athletic achievements are beyond what was thought possible. Morisi has qualified for the state swimming tournament in the 100-yard butterfly (59.10) and the 500-yard freestyle (5:13.72), with the latter representing the No. 1 time in the county, according to Section8Swim.com.
Morisi, who dreams of competing in the obstacle-course game show “American Ninja Warrior,” said she also holds the Massapequa Ames High School record for push-ups in the school’s physical fitness test, regardless of gender, with 60. She’s Newsday’s Athlete of the Week.
“I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot,” Morisi said. “I basically had a hole in my heart. I’m swimming today because of that. My parents didn’t want me to do any contact sports because it could’ve been more dangerous.”
She started competitively swimming at 7-years-old and said heart issues are no longer a concern. She attends yearly cardiology visits and will always have murmur but said, “Right now, everything’s good.”
Swimming with her club team, the Long Island Aquatic Club, has helped Morisi improve, as has Massapequa’s first-year coach, Jeremy Cuebas. He said Morisi hopes to qualify for the state tournament in two more events — the 200-yard freestyle and the 200-yard individual medley.
Because the NYSPHSAA only allows competitors to swim in the tournament in two individual events, qualifying in four would give her the wiggle room to decide which event schedule allows for ample rest.
Cuebas has been in awe of her performance since he took over as coach. “From my first day here, I couldn’t believe she was a freshman,” he said. “From every race, she’s looking for the top girl. She’s far ahead in terms of mental preparation. She’s excited for a close race.”
Though she hasn’t qualified for the state tournament in the 100-yard breaststroke, she did narrowly beat the school record set in 2003 by Kaitlyn DiDonato, who swam a 1:11.95. Morisi’s 1:11.87 broke the oldest school record on the board, Cuebas said.
“Last year I was off for a month before we started the varsity season,” Morisi said. “I think this year we had such a good preseason, and I came into this year stronger than I had in the past.”
Her strength is as much physical as it is mental, which is why she said one of her goals is to compete on “American Ninja Warrior.”
“It not only requires you to have physical strength, but you need to be able to mentally push through stuff,” she said. “It’s similar to swimming in that way.”
Given how much she’s overcome at a young age, who’s to say an obstacle course could slow her down?