One month after graduating from Peninsula High School, 18-year-old Megan Blunk made a spur-of-the-moment decision and hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by “my best friend’s boyfriend’s friend.”
Near Belfair, as Blunk was on the way to a group wave-riding outing, the motorcycle hit a post.
“She was catapulted down a cliff and broken into many pieces,” said Blunk’s mother, Wendy Ricketts.
The accident was on June 20, 2008, and Blunk didn’t return home to Lakebay until Oct. 3 that year. She came home in a wheelchair.
An athlete all her life, playing soccer, basketball, track, volleyball and softball, she lost more than the use of her legs.
She lost herself.
“I forgot who I was. I started becoming numb,” Blunk said. “I tried every single day for 31/2 years to define myself and couldn’t. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else I could still do things.
“I didn’t want the wheelchair to define me, for people to think ‘Oh, that poor girl, she used to be an athlete.’”
Her efforts fooled most.
“People saw me as strong and happy. I wasn’t,” Blunk said. “You do have to become strong in wheelchair — you can’t run and jump and prove yourself that same way.”
She stopped dating, afraid of the pain that would come should a young man stop seeing her. Despite what doctors told her, she learned to walk using a walker, though watching her do so is painful.
And she took up wheelchair basketball.
“There was really only one team in all of Washington, and it wasn’t competitive,” she said. “I was trying to play in my regular wheelchair, and there were a lot of metal-on-metal collisions.
“It was frustrating. I wasn’t good, and there weren’t many options.”
In 2010, at the annual Hoopfest event in Spokane, there were coaches who worked with wheelchair players. Seattle Adaptive Sports lent Blunk a wheelchair with which she could fly around the court.
It changed her life.
“Megan is the third of five children, all daughters,” her mother said. “She learned to be competitive early. She was always a little crazy. People were drawn to her, and she threw herself into everything she did.”
That last quality returned with wheelchair basketball, and Blunk earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Illinois.
In May 2012, a friend suggested she try kayaking.
She went to Jerisich Dock in Gig Harbor, where Alan Anderson teaches the sport. He remembers Blunk’s first day.
“I thought she looked good, and she went at it hard and fast,” Anderson said. “She went into the water a few times, but that didn’t bother her.”
Blunk wanted in.
“I loved any sport, and it added to my options” she said. “Paddling around felt so free.”
Last year, Anderson taught Blunk the basics. This year, there was no holding her back.
Blunk made the U.S. Paralympics team in July and last month went to Germany for the world competitions. In two 200-meter classes, she won silver medals.
“In the race I’d trained most for, I was disappointed,” she said. “My plan is to win. I finished 0.004 seconds behind — and I know exactly why I lost. At the end, I looked over to see where she was and it cost me.
“I’d have won if I’d kept my eyes straight ahead.”
She will try again at next summer’s world championships. And in 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, kayaking (also known as para-canoe) will become a Paralympic sport.
There is another goal.
“I’m going for my master’s degree in social work, I want to counsel the injured, help girls with their confidence, and be a speaker-advocate for those with disabilities,” Blunk said.
“When I was in rehab, if someone in a wheelchair had come in and told me it was going to be OK, I’d have believed them. I’d have recovered faster. All the doctors told me was what I’d never be able to do again.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/larue