Homeschooled teenager Morgan Hurd is the book-loving gymnast with braces who competes while wearing glasses. She’s the one who’s so petite that she even looks tiny standing next to other gymnasts. She has the distinction of being the first elite gymnast from the state of Delaware. Her unique look and creative floor routines have had some fans buzzing since 2014.
Morgan recently launched herself into the world spotlight by snatching a surprise women’s all-around gold at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Montreal. Now she will be representing the United States at the 2018 American Cup, which takes place on March 3.
The bespectacled 16-year-old was born on July 18, 2001 in Wuzhou, Guangxi, China. She was adopted at 11 months of age by single mom Sherri Hurd. Morgan resides in Middletown, Delaware, with her mother and uncle.
Morgan’s mom worked as a dental hygienist for 30 years until retiring and taking a job for Discover Bank that allowed her to work from home and support her daughter’s homeschooling and budding gymnastics career.
When Morgan was 3, Sherri began signing her daughter up for various sports – gymnastics, soccer, T-ball, dance – wanting to provide opportunities Morgan would not have been afforded had she grown up in China. Because of her size, most sports were tough. But at gymnastics class, being tiny and flexible was a gift.
By fifth grade, Morgan’s talent had outgrown her local classes, so Sherri took her to First State Gymnastics in Newark, Delaware. Morgan is now considered the next generation of elite performers in the United States.
Her mother told Flogymnastics.com: “We tried ice skating, T-ball, soccer, but she kept coming back to gymnastics. Because Morgan was small in comparison to other kids her age, I found that she could do well at it.
“She’s determined. I don’t know where that comes from. I think it’s one of those things that comes from inside,” said Sherri. “She has a vision about what she wants to do and she knows she has to put in the work to do it. She sacrifices a lot.”
Gymnasts don’t really have much of a life outside of the gym. Morgan is at the gym six days a week, practicing from 9 a.m. to noon, taking a break for her online homeschool coursework on weekdays, and then hitting the mats again from 3:30 to 7 p.m. On Saturdays, she trains for a half day.
Morgan’s Iconic Eyewear
The tiny 4-foot 5-inch gymnast stands out because she wears glasses instead of contacts, a choice made by only one other elite female gymnast in recent memory. “I tried contacts, but they made my eyeballs dry, and when I got [chalk dust] in my eyes, I had to take them out and put them back in,” said Morgan.
Because she wears frames, she can’t see well beyond the periphery of her glasses, especially when she’s performing a handstand or in the middle of a flip.
“I think I’ve been doing it for so long, I know how to work around not seeing out of certain spots and where to look,” she said.
Sometimes, though, when the gym gets hot, her lenses fog up, and she can’t see much of anything. When that happens, she just keeps going, following her intuition. It’s almost like flying blind.
Morgan the Bookworm
Morgan’s spectacles make her look bookish – and she is. “She’s just really smart. She just radiates intelligence,” said Dvora Meyers, gymnastics reporter for Deadspin. Morgan’s mother also credits her wiser-than-her-years vibe to being an only child.
When she’s not busy training, Morgan immerses herself in books – the actual ink-and-paper kind. Sherri gave her a Kindle, but Morgan wasn’t interested. “I have to be able to feel the book when I’m reading,” she said. “I have to be able to turn the page.”
In middle school, she couldn’t wait for the annual book fair, where she would stock up on Scholastic readers and YA titles. Today, while other kids her age are saturated in social media, Morgan still prefers the sanctity of stories. “I know it’s rare,” she admits. “I think I’m the only person at my gym who actually likes to read.”
Morgan’s love of reading actually started as a way to disengage from social media and a means of escape when she began competing at bigger meets and needed to focus on her routines instead of worrying about the harsh opinions of people she’d never met.
“I like that I can forget about what’s happening in the real world and transfer to a different one,” Morgan says. “I don’t really watch TV or sports other than gymnastics. I’d rather read my books.”
Morgan is a self-described Harry Potter junkie, who has not only read every volume of the Harry Potter series more than once, but also likes to dress up in character. The night the official playscript of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released to bookstores, Morgan donned her cape and wand and waited in a long line at her local Barnes & Noble to be one of the first in her town to own the book.
Some of her other favorites include: I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. She also recently started Turtles All The Way Down by John Green.
Morgan risks getting too consumed if she reads on weeknights. But when she has the time, as her mother describes it, her life stops being entirely gymnastics. Morgan says that books make her aware of views she hadn’t thought of before: “It’s giving me so many choices on the person that I want to be.”
Morgan’s Gymnastic Career
In 2014, Morgan competed in the Nastia Liukin Cup where she placed 14th as a level 10. She tied for 8th place at the American Classic in July 2014. At the U.S. Classic, she placed 18th behind future fellow National Team member Victoria Nguyen. At the P&G National Championships, she finished 29th in the all-around for Juniors.
In 2015, Morgan started with the U.S. Classic where she finished 9th on All-Around and 2nd on Uneven Bars. She competed at the P&G National Championships where she placed 8th in the All-Around, 7th on Floor Exercise, and tied for 4th on the Uneven Bars.
In 2016, Morgan competed at the American Classic where she finished 1st in the All-Around. She competed next at the U.S. Secret Classic where she placed 5th in the All-Around, 1st on Floor Exercise, and 2nd on the Uneven Bars. She competed at the P&G National Championships again and placed 5th in the All-Around, 3rd on Uneven Bars, and 7th on Vault.
In 2017, Morgan was eligible for Senior status. She made her international debut at the 2017 Stuttgart World Cup where she finished third in the all-around. In April, Morgan competed at the City of Jesolo Trophy and helped the United States finish first. In May, she underwent her second surgery in four years to remove cartilage from her right elbow. In July, Morgan competed at the U.S. Classic where she placed 6th on balance beam and 2nd on floor. In August, she competed at the P&G National Championships were she placed 6th all-around. With that finish, she secured a spot on the national team, one of ten invitees to participate in world championships selection camp at the National Team Training Center in Houston in September.
“I didn’t have the best showing at nationals, so going into worlds camp, I was the underdog. I was not anyone’s first choice,” Morgan told ESPN. “That pushes me. I wanted to show people that I went home and worked my butt off and I’m here to make the team.”
At the camp, Morgan placed first in the mock competition and was one of four women selected to represent the United States at the 2017 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Montreal.
Her teammate and roommate in Montreal, Ragan Smith, the 2017 national champion and an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team in Rio in 2016, was the heavy favorite to win the all-around. Morgan’s goal was simply to make it to the all-around final and one event final.
Then, moments before finals began, Smith injured her ankle while warming up for vault and was forced to withdraw from the competition. America’s only hope for an all-around medal now rested on Morgan, who was competing in her first world championship and had never won an individual title at an international meet. To add to the pressure, the U.S. team had won the past six world and Olympic all-around titles.
What happened next surprised even Morgan. One by one, she hit all four routines and gave a consistent performance where she showed great skill and artistry. Despite a few bobbles during her beam routine and a step out of bounds on floor, she finished .1 ahead of Canada’s Ellie Black, whom she trailed by .2 heading into the final rotation.
Morgan won the all-around title, and also claimed the balance beam silver medal. It was a stunning world championship debut for Morgan. “It’s crazy that I was even competing here,” Morgan said. “To think that I won is just the most surreal feeling in the world.”
“Who would have known when I went to get that little girl in China that this was what was going to happen,” Sherri told ESPN. “This is our life now, but that is what I want for her, a life that is as fulfilling and happy as possible.”
Morgan Meets Her Idol
On the podium, Morgan’s eyes widened as 1976 Olympic champion Nadia Comaneci placed the gold medal around her neck. In elementary school, Morgan’s mother had bought her a book about Comaneci and, inspired by the story of the first “perfect 10,” Hurd pulled her hair back with a ribbon and wore her competition warm-ups to school. Dressed as Comaneci, she stood at the front of her third-grade classroom and gave a report on the book. “It was incredible to meet her,” Morgan said. “She asked me about the report. She said she was honored.”
Fresh off the biggest win of her short gymnastics career, Morgan and her coach, Slava Glazounov, landed at Philadelphia International Airport where TV reporters and fans holding signs met the pair in the arrivals area.
“It was incredible,” said Glazounov, Morgan ‘s coach since fifth grade and the owner of First State. “She was on cloud nine.”
Later that week, First State Gymnastics threw a party in her honor. “She stood out from the start,” Glazounov told ESPN. “She exhibited that desire, she loves to impress and she wanted it always. No one ever had to tell her to work hard.”
“It is all surreal,” said Morgan. “I was so honored just to be competing at worlds and to win it was the most amazing feeling in the world. It’s been slowly setting in.”
Looking Toward the Future
Morgan will represent the USA at the 2018 AT&T American Cup being held March 2-3, 2018 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Morgan’s spectacular rise has also put her on course for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, something she has dreamed about since an early age.
“I definitely thought about being there [Rio] last year, but I’m glad I was too young because it gave me more time to develop my gymnastics,” she said. She hopes to fulfill her Olympic dreams in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, although Morgan is only a junior, she’s already committed to the University of Florida for the 2019-20 school year, where she will compete on the gymnastics team.
Morgan travels with two backup pairs of glasses and is keenly aware of her status as a real-life heroine to aspiring young gymnasts and awkward teens alike. “No one is born perfect,” Morgan says. “You will have imperfections. I hope more people see me and try to do sports or gymnastics with glasses. Nothing should stop you from doing something you are passionate about.”
That self-assuredness is a characteristic her mom, Sherri, says Morgan has shown since she was a child, despite having no interest in getting her driver’s license.
“Sometimes I think, ‘How is she capable of all this?'” Sherri told ESPN. “It does still surprise me, but she’s always been that way — organized, focused, knows what she wants and what she has to do to get it. Her independence amazes me. I was never that independent or confident at her age.”