Rediscovering Fitness from a Wheelchair

In life, there are small obstacles and big obstacles that keep us from doing what we want to do. Most of the small ones can be beaten quickly and with little effort, while the bigger ones are intimidating and aren't so easy to figure out. I had to deal with one of the really big obstacles — becoming paralyzed from the waist-down.

Starting Over

It happened about eight years ago when I was in a motorcycle accident and sustained a T6 incomplete spinal cord injury. Since then I have regained the use of my quad muscles and I am able to "waddle," as I call it, but I use a wheelchair most of the time. Before the accident, I was an incredibly active person. I played every sport I had the opportunity to play. My favorite sport was soccer, but I also loved volleyball, snowboarding, wakeboarding, dirt biking, baseball, track...anything and everything, really. And because I was so active, I never really had to worry much about staying fit because it just kind of happened naturally.

Megan Blunk working out at the gym

I had no idea how to emotionally handle being paralyzed at 18 years old. It was hard to have all of the things that I loved doing taken away from me. There were lots of adaptive sports I didn't know anything about at the time — in the moment, it felt like there were no activities I could still participate in. Discouraged but not beaten, I knew I couldn't just sit around and feel sorry for myself. I started by forcing myself to go to the gym every day I was able to get there. Hours and hours were spent at the gym doing a lot of upper-body workouts. After every workout, I would go find a mat in the gym and spend another hour or so stretching and feeling sad as I watched all of the people at the gym participate in activities that I no longer could. My time at the gym was mostly spent alone so I put my headphones in and did pretty much the same thing each day. Everywhere I went I always felt alone. The workouts I did kept me strong but I desperately needed something more.

The Discovery of a Lifetime

This cycle of going to the gym nearly every day, feeling sad and feeling like I had nothing to look forward to lasted for about a year. Then one day I was finally told about wheelchair basketball. I was shocked when I found out that there was a group of guys that got together and played only 20 minutes from where I lived! How had I never known about this? How had no one around me known about this? One sport led to another and my world opened up as I learned about the many different adaptive sports that were available to me. I began trying them all and started feeling more like myself again. Things were getting easier as I began to feel stronger in all areas of my life. I developed a motivation I had been missing for so long. I gained friendships and support systems where it felt like those around me really understood what I was going through. It became clear to me that being active and participating in both sports and life in general does so much more for you than just getting fit.

Megan Blunk, second from left, with her wheelchair basketball teammates

For me, it was never about just staying fit. It was about living a happy, fun, and fulfilling lifestyle that I just happened to find through participating in adaptive sports. The more sports I became involved with, like hand cycling, wheelchair track, wheelchair basketball, sit-volleyball, para-canoe, and swimming, the happier I became. The bonus, of course, is a healthier life that benefits me mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Megan Blunk para-canoeing

Taking the First Step Toward a Better Life

The hardest part to all this is starting. It's especially hard for those living with disabilities because there are not a lot of opportunities to participate in the same mainstream activities that are everywhere. Just like I did, you may have to start by doing things alone. You will have to encourage yourself every day to keep going and learn to find joy in the little things by appreciating the opportunities that you already have in your life. You especially need to be brave and put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable. If you lack the confidence and are too scared to something that interests you, that is all the more reason to do it. You will need to be open to anything and everything that comes your way.

It was when I realized that I was going to have to be a pioneer and pave my own way that getting fit, staying fit, and living an all-around active, healthier, and happier lifestyle really began happening for me. Of course, watching what I ate was important as well. But for me, it wasn't what I needed to focus on in order to get to where I wanted to be. Maintaining a consistent schedule of activities to stay in shape was the main factor in feeling alive and happy.

Megan Blunk playing wheelchair basketball

The truth is that staying fit is about pushing yourself in everything that you do, overcoming every obstacle that comes your way, and never giving up. When I began trying new things and really putting myself out there I met so many amazing people. I learned new things about myself, I felt stronger mentally, emotionally, and physically, and new doors and opportunities were opened up to me. I can promise you that if you take that first step and stick with it, in the end, all of the sweat and tears will have been worth it.

About the Author

Megan Blunk

Paralympic Gold Medalist Megan Blunk currently lives in Gig Harbor, Washington. Shortly after high school graduation, she was partially paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Megan received a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and will soon complete her master's degree in Social Work. She has a passion to help kids and adults who are struggling with their own challenges.

Since her accident, Megan has competed in kayak and canoe racing, winning two silver medals for the USA at the 2013 International Canoe Federation Paracanoe Sprint World Championships in Moscow, Russia finishing fourth in her two events. In 2015 she won a gold medal with Team USA women's wheelchair basketball team at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

Becoming a member of Team USA for the 2016 Rio Paralympics has been a goal of Megan's for the past several years and winning the gold medal was certainly the ultimate reward for her hard work and determination. Megan's character, integrity, and compassion make her the best ambassador the United States could ask for.

Megan's ride is a Quickie 7R

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Date: 1/3/2017 12:00:00 AM


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