My Road to Rio 2016, Part 2

Read Part 1 of My Road to Rio 2016 here

Two years after I had decided that I was going to be a Paralympian no matter what it took, I got the first opportunity I was looking for. After hours in the gym every day and applying to colleges with wheelchair basketball teams so I could get quality coaching, I earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois and made their team. This was a huge step on the road to Rio.

Megan's team pushing up and down the football stadium ramps

I played for Illinois for the next five years. Practice was brutal but I learned so much. Arm strength is critical so for the first two months, we practiced pushing up and down the ramps in the football stadium. The team worked out together another three days a week. We practiced at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday from August until April. Some mornings the unforgiving Illinois weather was below zero and we had to navigate to practice before the sidewalks had been shoveled. We did all of this while taking a full load of classes and pulling all-nighters studying for tests while it seemed like the rest of the student body was out partying. On weekends, we loaded up the bus with dozens of both the men's and women's basketball and everyday wheelchairs to travel anywhere from 10 to 20 hours to tournaments where we played four to five games.

Two years later I tried out for the 2013 USA Development Team and I added an entirely different kind of busy to my life. Training for and with the USA Team took an incredible amount of time, strength, and energy. Not only did I already have my college practices every day of the week, I also had school with a full load of classes, strength and conditioning workouts, family and other relationships to maintain, and above all else, I still had depression I had to fight every single day.

Megan Blunk's calloused hand

The USA Team has a decentralized training program. This means that because our team was from all over the country, once or twice a month they would fly us to one of three training centers: Colorado Springs, CO; Lake Placid, NY; or the Alabama Lakeshore Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Once there, we would spend anywhere from four days to two weeks together with two to three practice sessions a day on top of working with our sports nutritionist and sports psychologist, doing team bonding sessions, reviewing video, and discussing plans & plays. When we weren't together, we were on the honor system as we were required to get a certain number of shooting and strength & conditioning workouts done on our own time and submit everything that we did to our coaches each week.

There were plenty of times when I just didn't want to get out of bed, when I got to my apartment after a three-hour early morning college practice and the only thing I wanted to do was go back to sleep. Going to class, studying, writing papers, and then going back to the gym for my individual "honor system" practice were the last things in the world I felt like doing. But I kept my focus. I reminded myself every day why I was doing this, what I wanted in my life, and the good things that I knew would happen as long as I didn't give up. I would think about that regret that I didn't want to have anymore. The regret that I already had from my past, along with the added regret I would have in my future from my decisions right now. I would think about the way that people viewed me in the first few years after my accident; all of the pity they felt for me because I now had to live my life in a wheelchair. I didn't want them to ever have a chance to even begin to look at me with that pity ever again. I was determined to prove to not only myself, but to the world that just because I am in a wheelchair does not mean my life is over. Nothing and no one was ever going to move me from my goal of making it to the Paralympics.

Megan Blunk lining up a shot

In the end, I made it. I did exactly what I set out to do. And knowing this, it has done exactly what I told myself it would do. I no longer live with the regret of my past and I have proven to the world and to myself that I can do anything, no matter what.

And I was blessed to be a part of something truly amazing. Not only did I make it to the Paralympics, I got to do it with a group of the most amazing women I could have ever imagined having as my teammates. Together, we have overcome all obstacles in our way and we have shown the world what hard work and determination can do...and we won the Gold.

Megan Blunk and her team after winning the Gold Medal

I have been blessed, and I know that. I was right when I told that reporter 10 years ago that I believed this accident happened for a reason and that it was going to make me a stronger person. I am so thankful that it happened to me.

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. Her sport chair is a Quickie All Court.

Most of the stories here on were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.

Date: 2/13/2018 12:00:00 AM

Tom Haig
Hey Megan - Awesome run you've had so far!!!
Oddly enough, I'm a para who also got a Psych degree from U of I. But I got it back when B.F. Skinner was still alive!!! ('85)
Head high - wheels down!!! You're awesome!
2/19/2018 5:23:21 PM

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