Local woman busting her butt and conquering her Olympic dreams

Scott Turner Former Key Peninsula resident Megan Blunk has made the U.S. Paralympic basketball team, and has a good shot at making the the squad to play in the Paralympic Games in 2016. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

Seven years ago –– on July 20, 2008 –– she was critically injured in a motorcycle accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

She had just graduated from Peninsula High Schools Running Start program through Tacoma Community College and was trying to decide what she wanted to do next.

She grew up near Lakebay and had always excelled in sports. She started playing soccer as a 5-year-old and continued to play all the way through high school.

At PHS, she also did track, basketball, volleyball and fastpitch –– but she had been losing her passion for sports.

“I kept telling myself I was never good enough. I had all the potential but I couldnt believe in myself. It made me too sad all the time, so I kind of quit pushing myself and just focused on school and trying to figure myself out,” Blunk said.

After the accident she had three major surgeries and spent 23 days in the hospital followed by several weeks in a nursing home, starting rehab.

“After the accident, I had some major regrets for not believing in myself before or realizing what I had when I had it,” she said.

“I thought everything –– all the opportunities I had –– was completely gone because as long as Im in a wheelchair I dont have any more opportunities,” she said.

She spent months fighting depression. “It was the worst feeling. It sort of eats you alive. I really didnt want to live anymore. I never thought of killing myself, but I was hoping there would be a car accident or something would happen to just end it because it was just too painful to live with that emotional pain. The physical pain was bad enough, but the emotional pain was even harder,” Blunk recalled.

Five months after the accident, she started using a walker. Slowly, she learned to walk with canes.

“The depression I had really pushed me,” she said. “I knew I had to do something to make it better because I couldnt live like that for the rest of my life –– like wanting to die every day.”

Her mother, Wendy Ricketts, convinced her to go back to TCC and to start working out at the YMCA.

Her dad, David Blunk, was also a major positive force in her life.

About a year after the accident, during one of her daily workouts at the Y, Megan met a young man in a wheelchair who told her about a group of guys in Tacoma who got together to play wheelchair basketball.

She and her new friend went to Tacoma and checked them out.

“I just knew that that was my opportunity to play a sport again and to really push myself,” she said. “I remembered the regret from not having pushed myself all through high school when I had the opportunity. I knew I could overcome that regret if I took this chance and didnt waste it.”

It was hard at first and very frustrating for her. But in 2010, just as she was finishing work on her associates degree from TCC, she learned that the University of Illinois had a wheelchair basketball team.

“I started working even harder and I made it my goal to get a scholarship and play,” she said, beaming.

The hard work and determination paid off and Blunk got a four-year scholarship to the University of Illinois.

Not only did she make the Illinois team, she also was determined to make the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair basketball team.

“I just decided that I was going to make that team and was going to make it to the Paralympics,” she said. “Some people were just like, ‘Do you know how hard that is? And I just said ‘Im gonna get there.’”

In 2014 she achieved her goal and was chosen for the U.S. Paralympic team. Her team took forth place in the world championships in Toronto, Canada, that year, and shell compete again this summer.

In addition to her basketball triumphs, Blunk is also a world-class kayak racer. She discovered the Gig Harbor Canoe & Kayak Club several years ago and kayaking gave her something to focus on during the summers when she came back home to the Key Peninsula.

“It was really awesome to get out of my wheelchair and into a boat that you can just glide across the water. And I loved the opportunity to race again because I used to do track and I was really fast,” she said.

She quickly became so good at kayaking that she ended up going to the 2013 World Canoe and Kayak Championships in Germany, where she won silver medals in the 200-meter race and the 200-meter para-canoe race.

Last year Blunk graduated from University of Illinois and is now studying there for a master’s degree in social work. Shes still eligible to play wheelchair basketball and in August, shell compete in the Pan American Games in Toronto and hopes to go to the U.S. Paralympics in 2016.

“The Pan American Games is the qualifiers for the Paralympics so our U.S. team has to make the top three to be qualified for the Paralympics in 2016,” she said.

Blunk credits her friends and family for helping her overcome her depression and all the challenges she has faced.

“If it wasnt for my family and friends, I never would have made it through. Whenever I was having one of the hardest times ever, there would be someone that just walked up to me and told me something that would make me feel better and encourage me right when I needed it the very most.

“My dad was the most important person in helping me through it all,” she said. “I know I could not have done it without my dad, David Blunk.”

Recently another cheerleader entered Megans life, her boyfriend Marshall Pinto. “Hes one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met and he makes me feel very good about myself,” she said.

Her advice to anyone whos willing to listen is to “face your fears and push yourself no matter what. If youre uncomfortable or insecure about something, always just put yourself in a situation that makes you more uncomfortable and that you‘re scared of doing, and face it over and over again because you know you want to be stronger.

“Because if you dont, the opportunity is going to pass and youre going to regret it,” she said.