Marin Morrison, a Sammamish swimmer who competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, died Friday of brain cancer.

Share story

Marin Morrison’s dream to compete in the Beijing Olympics preceded her diagnosis of brain cancer in 2005.

It outlived four surgeries and partial paralysis.

It overcame a grim setback four months before the 2008 games that made even her coach wonder if she would make it to China.

The dream was realized in September, when Miss Morrison competed in three events in the Beijing Paralympics, the games for athletes with disabilities.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Miss Morrison, 18, who inspired thousands with her drive and determination, died Friday morning at her family’s home in Sammamish.

Her story of perseverance made national news and took her to the White House to meet President Bush.

“Her lifelong dream was to swim in Beijing, and we had to make that happen for her,” said her dad, Matt Morrison. “And she made it happen for herself.”

A gifted swimmer from early childhood, Miss Morrison was competing at age 6 and besting high-school records as a freshman. She missed the Olympic time trials by just 1.5 seconds when she was 14.

Her Olympic dreams could have been shattered with her cancer diagnosis early in 2005, when she and her family were still living in Atlanta. Surgery that summer left the right side of her body paralyzed and made it difficult for her to speak.

But after moving to Sammamish with her family in November 2005, Miss Morrison continued to swim.

At first it was just for exercise, but she joined the Eastlake High School team and began to train as a disabled athlete for the Olympics, swimming six days a week at one point to prepare for the April Olympic Trials.

“She was the one who had to show up every day, and I’ll tell you what, I’ve coached a lot of kids, … every once in a while you gotta really twist their arm to get them to do the deal, and that was never the case with her,” said her coach, Andy Hay. “She was ready and willing to do what it took.”

Matt Morrison regrets that people in Washington state did not know his daughter the way they could have if she had been well when she moved to Sammamish.

She couldn’t speak easily, so it took more effort to get to know her smile, her “gentle nature,” he said.

Many will say her legacy is her tenacity or her success in the pool, he said, but “in my heart, it’s mostly what a good little person she was, what a good little soul.”

She didn’t grumble about her illness. She didn’t complain about repeated bad news from the doctors, each diagnosis a harder blow than the one before it.

After her first surgery, doctors had to operate again to remove a blood clot. Then radiation didn’t work. Experimental treatments seemed to help for a while.

This past April, she qualified for the Paralympics in three events. But a month later, doctors were forced to operate yet again, and then to restart radiation to keep the tumor at bay.

Despite her worsening health, she traveled in September as part of the U.S. Paralympic Team. In October, she met President and Mrs. Bush.

“I never doubted her ability to make it,” said Hay, “but there came a point that I knew it was in God’s hands, whether he was going to let it happen or not.”

In addition to her father, Matt, mother Nancy, sister Camlyn, 14, and brother Michael, 6, all of whom live in Sammamish, Miss Morrison is survived by her grandparents and many aunts, uncles and cousins in California and across the country.

A memorial service is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Timberlake Christian Fellowship Church, 4505 236th Ave. N.E., in Redmond.

Family and friends plan to wear caps and goggles, dressed for “Marin’s last swim.”

The service will be webcast live from the church’s Web site, Notes for the family can be left on a family Web site:

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.