Retired Paralympian Megan Blunk Returns to the Key Peninsula

Always the champion, the KP native once again proves how grit and persistence pay off in her long battle with depression.


Megan Blunk’s life is full of triumphs.

She was a star athlete from kindergarten through high school. After a motorcycle crash left her wheelchair-bound in 2008, she took up paracanoeing and wheelchair basketball. She won two silver medals in the 2013 Paracanoe World Championships. She joined the Paralympian wheelchair basketball team, taking home a gold medal in 2016. Blunk was the first in her family to go to college and went on to earn a master’s degree in social work, funded by a scholarship for wheelchair basketball. She has mentored and coached young athletes with disabilities.

Her greatest victory, though, is her triumph over a longstanding battle with depression. Blunk has been open about her mental health issues for years, sharing her story through blogs and podcasts.

A month after graduating from Peninsula High she accepted a ride on a motorcycle and within minutes was thrown down an embankment. She broke her back and 18 bones. Her dreams of a full recovery and running in the Olympics collided with reality when she returned home in a wheelchair with just partial use of her hip muscles.

“People in the grocery store would either say I was an inspiration or look at me with pity,” Blunk said. “I told myself I want to be an inspiration if I’m going to be called one. I’m going to do something bigger than I would have done if it hadn’t been for the accident and make it worth it. I didn’t want anyone to look at me with pity again.”

She connected with a wheelchair basketball team that scrimmaged in Tacoma. “I had an everyday wheelchair at first,” Blunk said. “It wasn’t the greatest experience.” She learned about Seattle Adaptive Sports — they brought some basketball wheelchairs to try — and she connected with the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The foundation purchased her first basketball wheelchair.

Her drive earned her a scholarship to the University of Illinois to play wheelchair basketball. It was a grueling five years of classroom work, practices and tournaments.

Blunk trained for the Paralympics Games and made the team, but she constantly worried she was not good enough. She was on and off antidepressants, trying to balance dosing, benefits and side effects. “I cried every day,” Blunk said.

The successes of 2016 did not bring joy. “I had worked so freaking hard for eight years,” she said. “We won gold, I had my degree. I moved back home, and I was more depressed than ever. I didn’t know how I was supposed to make it better if that didn’t do it.”

The years since have been a journey to recovery.

In 2018, Blunk moved to Los Angeles and then to San Diego for work, and her life had all the trappings of success. She was sponsored by several businesses, including The Hartford, Nike and Quickie Wheelchairs. She spoke at events. She appeared in promotional videos alongside Colin Kaepernick and Kobe Bryant.

She joined Wolfpack, the otherwise all-male military wheelchair basketball team for two years. “It was like having 13 brothers,” Blunk said. Playing with them prepared her for the Paralympics tryouts. “I was so ripped!” she said. She made the 2020 Paralympic team, and she made lifelong friends along the way.

But the depression never really lifted. “I thought I could show the weak side balanced by the strength of being on the team. But more attention meant more eyes on me when I played, and I was worried about not being good enough.”

The pandemic delayed the 2020 games and took the pressure off. Blunk decided to go off antidepressants. “I wanted to know who I am without medication,” she said. She considered electroconvulsive therapy but decided she didn’t want to risk memory loss.

She worked with a therapist. She left the Paralympic team. She got a dog. And she decided to move back to Lakebay, close to her father.

Her new house needed improvements, including a better walkway.

“When people try to help someone with a disability there are struggles,” Blunk said. “My dad had built a brick parking area, but it wasn’t where I wanted it. Able-bodied me would not have needed help to move it. I can’t make everything better, but I want to learn how to do the work.”

She was determined to do the work herself. She couldn’t use a wheelbarrow and she couldn’t always work from her wheelchair. She got pants with a reinforced seat and scooted around, tossing bricks one by one to the right location. Her dad helped when he could. She worked rain or shine four to 12 hours a day for the next year and a half to excavate a path using the claw end of a hammer and moving twelve tons of dirt bucket by bucket to level the terrain.

“I am so efficient now,” Blunk said. “I know what it takes. I have a brick path all around my house.”

Blunk’s depression has lifted. “Digging in the dirt is grounding,” she said. “I am passionate about life. Taking myself out of the competition from sports has helped.” Slowing life down and a low-dose antidepressant have also made a difference.

All those hours outside also added an important person to Blunk’s life. She met her boyfriend, Dustin Letellier, when he was running by her house and stopped to talk.

“He’s been amazing,” Blunk said. “He has taught me so much about trust and day-to-day stability.”

Blunk continues to work with athletes with disabilities. She coaches the Tacoma Jr. Titans. She hopes to get a truckload of adaptive wheelchairs, take them to schools, and give students the experience of playing wheelchair basketball in PE classes. Adaptive sports can include people with knee or ankle issues, she said. They are not limited to people with spinal cord injuries or amputations.

She has an agent who works with adaptive athletes, and she may continue to have sponsorships. She has plans to be part of a new Schwartzkopf advertising campaign.