Morgan Uceny competed in the Olympics as a 1500 meter runner and won three National Champs in that distance, and had many other successes on the track. She discovered bike racing and is now is racing bikes and will compete in the UCI Esports World Championships next month. We had a chat with her about being recently hit by a truck, her recovery and getting ready for the Esports World Championships.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Morgan.
Morgan Uceny: You are welcome.
ST: I believe in early December of 2022 you were hit by a box truck while riding your bike. What exactly happened and where are you now in terms of recovery?
Morgan: Yes. I had just returned from a week-long Caribbean vacation with my Mom, so I was keen to go for a ride since I hadn’t ridden for the week I was away. My husband and I decided to go on a short ride and we were only 3-4 miles from our house, riding roads that we are well-familiar with. I was riding with a Garmin Varia radar and was alerted that a vehicle was approaching, so we moved to the side of the road and the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground with a weird-looking arm at my side. I had a compound fractured humerus and a fractured sacrum. I had surgery on my arm to insert a plate and six screws and was told the sacrum would just heal on its own.
I feel like my recovery has gone as best as could be expected. I have a great PT and am a personal trainer by trade, so I made sure to start a program to recover range of motion and strength as soon as possible. I’ve been able to ride my trainer, starting with 20 minutes the first day, and just taking a really conservative approach to getting my fitness back. The biggest surprise has been my increased heart rate. It’s easily 15 bpms higher than before the accident!
ST: Is that heart rate supposed to return to normal or is that not clear at this time?
Morgan: I’m assuming it will return with time. I’m already starting to notice some improvements.
ST: The UCI Esports World Championships are coming up in mid-February and you are scheduled to race in them. But before we get to that event let us chat about how you got there, as in from running at a world elite level to cycling?
Morgan: I ran professionally for 9 years, retiring from the track in 2016. I was a middle-distance runner, competing in the 800m and 1500m. After I retired, I continued to run for fun but didn’t have any interest in doing anything too intense. It kind of felt like a been there done that situation. My husband joined a cycling team out of Boston called Green Line Velo and then a trainer soon followed in order to train through the winter. I eventually followed suit the following year in 2021, joining the same team and then racing in the Community Racing League with our women’s team that winter.
ST: At what point did you realize that you were good at it?
Morgan: I think the trainer suited me well because it took the bike-handling skills out of the equation! During the community league, I was finding myself near the front of races and gained some confidence that I had the ability, but still had a lot to learn when it came to the gaming and strategy aspect of Zwift. I had learned a lot by the end of the season and was asked to join the Saris NoPinz team for the following 2022 season.
ST: How and when did you get introduced to virtual cycling for both training and racing?
Morgan: During the winter of 2021. My husband had already been training and racing on Zwift so I started doing Zwift workouts on the trainer and easy runs for my recovery days. It was really a perfect combo for me!
ST: I guess there is no crashing your bike on Zwift and it is not the end of the world if the tire pressure is not perfect.
Morgan: Yes! Coming into the cycling world later in life, I still feel like a big noob when it comes to cycling. I had never clipped into pedals before my first road bike in 2020. Running is such a user-friendly sport, so it has been quite an adjustment getting on the bike. At least inside, it is a much more controlled environment and I like that low-stress aspect.
ST: Also, that is certainly a very quick transition from getting introduced to Zwift in 2021 and now racing in the eSports Worlds in 2023.
Morgan: I really love that I get to have this kind of rookie experience all over again. I like being an unknown player and kind of skirting the edges, it takes the pressure off and just allows me to have fun with it.
ST: What is your trainer setup like at home?
Morgan: My husband has grown our bike room into quite the set up. We each have a trainer and apple TV, which makes it really easy and fun to Zwift at the same time. I have come to find that my must-haves are a fan, water, and tissues!
ST: Which trainers do you two use?
Morgan: We both use the Wahoo Kickr
ST: Back to the Esports Worlds. Do you feel ready?
Morgan: If you had asked me this a week ago, I would have said not really. My fitness really turned a corner last week, and while it’s not to the same level as it was before the accident, it’s getting there! I’m feeling much stronger and confident in the stability of my injuries. The last thing I want to do, is set myself back in terms of my recovery, but now that I’ve been training for a few weeks, I feel strong in my body and that makes me mentally more ready to tackle harder efforts.
ST: In your view, how different are the tactics in Zwift racing compared to racing outside?
Morgan: Certainly some overarching similarities such as being in the draft versus not being in the draft, timing and placement when sprinting. It does seem that breakaways don’t stick as easily in Zwift; the blob has a lot of leverage in Zwift. Racing in the Premier League, you have to have the trainer difficulty at 100%, but if you are racing outside of that and able to adjust the trainer difficulty, you can use that to your advantage depending on the type of course.
Lacking patience is at least consistent for me both in real life and on Zwift!
ST: How much running do you do these days and do you sometimes run on Zwift?
Morgan: I haven’t ran since the accident…which might be the longest I’ve gone without running. I’m waiting to get approval from my doctor that my images are clear and ready for the impact. I am surprised that I haven’t really missed it, but that’s because I’ve been able to get on the trainer and keep myself sane!
ST: Have you actually run on Zwift before the accident?
Morgan: I’ve never run on Zwift! I detest running on the treadmill, so if it’s not nice enough to run outside, I will ride inside. It’s a win win for me!
ST: Looking back at your amazing running career, which title or race experience do you cherish the most?
Morgan: While competing at the 2012 Olympic finals may have been my greatest athletic accomplishment, they did not end the best for me, as I tripped up in the final lap and did not finish the race. However, qualifying for the Olympics, by winning the US Olympic Trials was the most memorable because I was able to share the experience with my family. As soon as I crossed the finish line, knowing I had made the team, I looked into the crowd, immediately found my family and we all just screamed and jumped up and down, it was so special.
ST: What is on your bucket list of events or sports still to do?
Morgan: Well I just bought a mountain bike so I’m very excited to give that a go! My husband and I decided we would like to have the option to spend less time on the roads since we have now both been hit by vehicles.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Morgan: I would just like this event to be a spark of inspiration for other women to get into Zwift. There are a LOT of men on the platform, and I would love to see more women become a part of the community. The ladies of my Saris NoPinz team have all been a tremendous support and I’ve never even met any of them in real life, but that’s what makes it so unique and fun!