Morgan Zuch is not just a Leukemia survivor. Period. When the senior was informed that the interview questions for this story would not only pertain to surviving cancer, but also to what makes Morgan Zuch, well, Morgan Zuch, she beamed. Simply at the thought of that.
Zuch is a psychology and special education major from Bay Shore, NY. Her goal is to take the skills she learned at Marist and use them to teach at the Morgan Center, a preschool for children with cancer that her parents founded in her honor. Zuch was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, at the age of two. She completed treatments at five years old and was cured of cancer at ten. Zuch’s parents founded the school after she had finished treatment as they realized Zuch had been deprived of so much during her childhood. “I really only went home, to the hospital, and back because of my suppressed immune system,” Zuch explained. “I could not do the things that any normal child was doing at that age.”
A member of the crew team at Marist, Morgan has been rowing since her freshman year of high school. At the time of her freshman year, Zuch’s older brother was a senior, who was on the rowing team at Bay Shore High School. “He told me that I had to try out for crew. At first, I was on the fence,” Zuch added, “but he forced me to try out. My brother really influenced me [to join] crew.” Thanks to her brother’s recommendation, Zuch ended up performing exceptionally well in rowing. She has since participated in the MAAC Conference every year and has contributed to the many successes that the Marist women’s rowing team has achieved, including winning the MAAC Championship last spring, which hadn’t been done in six years. “Being a part of that was such a big accomplishment, as a team and individually,” Zuch described. “Being able to push my body to the limit after going through so much.”
Not only has Zuch made significant contributions to the team, but she has also set some records of her own. Each semester Zuch has received MAAC academic honor. She also beat her personal record this past month. Quite a way to start her senior year.
She puts a lot of her energy into rowing, but she also is involved in several other activities. She is a member of Delta Alpha Pi, an honor’s society for students with disabilities, and she is a member of the Education Honor Society, Kappa Delta Pi. She student-teaches math, science, and English every day in a class of fourth-graders. “I love it and I could not imagine doing anything else,” Zuch explained with a smile on her face. Over the summer, she worked at a camp for children with special needs, Camp Bright Star, on Long Island. “I like to make a difference and help others,” she said. “I always feel the need to reach out to help someone when I see that they’re struggling. I guess that is one of my major qualities.”
Morgan’s teammate McKenna Klineyoung can advocate for this quality. The two met during their freshman year and have stayed close ever since, a bond bound to forge some memorable life moments. Klineyoung mentioned a time when she was huddling with her teammates in the freezing cold awaiting their race, and Zuch came over to wrap a warm blanket all around them. Zuch’s father snapped a picture of said memory. “This was a very Morgan moment,” Klineyoung explained. “She felt like she had to protect all of her people and make sure everyone is good.”
Klineyoung described Zuch as having the heart of a fox. “She comes to practice every day, no matter the weather or what’s going on in her life,” Klineyoung elaborated. “You would not know if she is stressed because she comes in and works her butt off. Morgan always has a smile on her face and is always there to pick anyone up who is having a bad day… as a friend and a teammate.”
One of Zuch’s favorite projects that she was a part of at Marist was the Marist Circle’s “For The Record” initiative. She was one of fifty students chosen as an “inspiring story.” But her biggest accomplishment yet was starting a walk during September of last year for Childhood Cancer Awareness month. “Each year I am trying to get it bigger and better. McKenna has been my right hand for that this year,” Zuch explained. “The goal is to bring awareness to Childhood Cancer Awareness month because not many people know about it.” The walk was held along the boathouses in Longview Park this year, perfect for a rower of “determined spirit,” like Zuch, who won the award of the same name at last year’s Foxpys.
Outside of rowing and schoolwork, on an off day, Zuch jokingly said she will still be rowing. But, she does enjoy hanging out with her friends and family, baking, cooking, and being outdoors. She also thoroughly enjoys peanut butter and claimed the best is, “Smuckers all natural all the way.”
If Zuch could have dinner with anyone, it would be Walt Disney. She went on her Make-A-Wish trip to Disney when she was four years old and revisited the park every year until she was 18. “My family and I have a picture of us growing up in front of the [Cinderella] castle every year. You can just see my brother and I get taller and taller,” Zuch added, beaming again. “My mom has them all in her wallet and she will lay them out for all of the years.” Disney provided what no other could during those years: “A glimpse of hope.”
Zuch chose to attend Marist simply because she saw herself fitting in here the second she stepped on campus, on both academic and social fronts. The fact that Marist is located on the Hudson River and has a crew team merely put the cherry on top. She has grown up alongside the water all of her life. “Being able to see the Hudson throughout the day brings a sense of home and me such joy,” Zuch stated.
So much joy that she can’t leave; she’s elected to pursue her Masters post-grad at Marist. “I just love it so much,” she said. Following that, Zuch wants to be anywhere she can help with the Morgan Center, which recently expanded to two locations, the original in Hicksville, Long Island, the second in central Florida. “We are hoping to branch out to more cities within the next few years. I don’t know where I will end up, but I definitely want to be helping to run one and teach.”
This “heart of a fox” is ready to make her own mark on the world through her passion for teaching and love for giving back to the community around her. It’s admirable, really. At the end of the day, she deserves the perfect dinner with Walt Disney along the Hudson — next to the boathouses, naturally — chatting over a tall jar of Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter.
Edited by Amelia Nick & Will Bjarnar
Photo by Poughkeepsie Journal