Professional pole vaulter and UA grad Sandi Morris loves all animals. If it walks on all fours, flies or has fur, she’s a fan.
Except for maybe cockroaches. That’s where Morris draws the line – but only if they’re crawling on her.
“If someone comes up and hands me a hissing cockroach, I’ll hold it no problem,” Morris said.
For the 24-year-old Olympic silver medalist, Morris’ passion for pets transcends her love for pole vaulting.
“My pets relax me, and they are my way of escaping from the world,” Morris said. “Sometimes I’m just tired of being around people and I want to be around just loving creatures who don't judge you or care about who you are. They’re my escape from the crazy world of being a professional athlete.”
Growing up in Greenville, South Carolina, Morris had quite an assortment of pets, ranging from the usual like dogs and cats to the unusual like a chinchilla or snakes.
“I think it would be easier to answer what animals I didn't have growing up,” Morris said.
She was even able to talk her mom into getting a flying squirrel at an exotic animal show, much to her mom’s chagrin.
These shows were not the only places Morris would find her little friends. She said she also would buy different animals from breeders online and owned pretty much every creature that came from a pet store.
“When I was a little kid, it started with bugs, and I would go out in the backyard and pick up spiders and things most people would run away from screaming, usually,” Morris said. “I don’t know how I didn't get bit by anything venomous when I was a little kid because I would pick up anything.”
Morris said she also would watch Animal Planet for hours and aspired to be like the late Steve Irwin, more affectionately known as the Crocodile Hunter.
“(He) was definitely my idol, or at least he was when I was growing up, and I swore I was going to be the female version of Steve Irwin,” Morris said. “Still to this day I remember those shows and how much they opened my eyes to my love for animals.”
Before her rise to the professional stage and her silver medal, Morris had initially decided on a different career path, one more fitting to her passion for critters. When she enrolled at the University of North Carolina, she had her sights set on becoming a veterinarian.
But after taking biology classes, that dream was short-lived.
“Those classes were not for me, even though I have a passion for animals,” Morris said. “I didn’t have a passion for those classes.”
She then transferred to the UofA and graduated in 2015 with a journalism degree.
Even though her choice of profession had changed, her feelings toward animals never has.
One of her favorite things to do outside of track is to play with her pets and share her love for them with the world through her social media.
They have also given her valuable life lessons.
“My animals have taught me love and compassion and responsibility,” Morris said. “They have really shaped me as a person now and I am very responsible because of them. Growing up, if I didn’t take care of my animals, my mom and dad probably would have gotten rid of them.”
Today, Morris is the proud owner of three snakes, one dog, one bird and all of the fish that live in her 40-gallon tank at her house.
One of the challenges Morris has faced since becoming an international athlete has been trying to find people to care for them while she travels for competition.
“It can be very hard to have my pets and travel,” Morris said.
During the track & field season, which lasts from mid-January to mid-September, Morris said she could be gone for up to three months.
Luckily, she has friends and family in the area who care for her pets.
“It’s worth it,” Morris said. “Someday, hopefully, I’ll be ready for a real human child.”
Whenever that day comes, Morris has already decided her kids will grow up with many pets too, just like their mom.
“I know how much they taught me compassion,” Morris said. “One of my favorite childhood memories was of raising ducklings, so I know I’ll have my kids raise ducklings and have animals teach them what they taught me.”
But for right now, Morris is focused on gearing up for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
For the next 3 1/2 years, she will devote all her time training with her old pole vault coach Bryan Compton in Fayetteville, without any worry of working a full-time job because she’s sponsored by Nike.
“I hope my career in track & field is very long,” Morris said. “My goal is to go until 2024. At that time, I’ll be in my early 30s, and that’s a pretty good time to possibly retire.”