After a severe injury brought Megan’s dreams of going to the Olympics and becoming a professional swimmer to a devastating halt, she went through some very difficult years that included multiple surgeries on both shoulders. Yet, an end to an athletic career made way for other passions, and a much stronger person.
Current Occupation: I just began a career in real estate and am looking into mixing some of my bookkeeping experience with a property management class I would like to take and hopefully start my own company soon!
Favorite Healthy Food: I am a mom to a toddler so coffee is necessary to help me get through the day (some people may argue about its health benefits but I find the routine helpful and often need caffeine for some pep in my step); berries, avocado on everything, acai pitaya bowl, chia pudding, tacos, dark chocolate… anyone else hungry?
Favorite Physical Activity: Obviously I love swimming, but can’t do that much anymore. I really enjoy chasing after my toddler and have been loving running lately.
Biggest Sport Honor: The biggest turning point for me was when I won Junior Nationals and broke the record in the 50 backstroke. Until then I really didn’t have a lot of confidence in my abilities or saw much of a future for myself in the sport. That meet served as a positive reinforcement to all of the training and dedication I was giving to the sport. I also (accidentally) touched Michael Phelps butt at Nationals - don’t worry, it’s super common to swipe people in a crowded pool and it happens all of the time. I was 14 or 15, and I remember running to tell all of my friends right when I got out of the pool. I’d also say that after having a baby, finding the time and energy to commit to achieving a fitness goal was a huge accomplishment. I felt pretty run down after giving birth and found it so hard to feel comfortable again, but slowly things came together and I am really proud to share my efforts and accomplishments with my daughter and show her how an active lifestyle can be a lot of fun!
High School: West Valley High School in Yakima, WA
College & Degree: University of Southern California for 1.5 years (NCAA DI), graduated from Eastern Washington University with Bachelor of Arts in Recreation Management, with a double minor in Business and Communications.
How old were you when you started playing sports or exercising?
My parents were both really active when they had my brother and me, so ever since I can remember I was going on bike rides and going to races with them, not to mention my own activities they signed me up for. There are pictures of me in a bike trailer when I was less than a year old. I was always around sports, so I just picked up on it and was lucky enough to explore my interests at my own pace.
How old were you when you started playing your main sport?
My mom was coaching high school swimming when she had me. She put me in the pool that first fall after I was born since I was at practice so often - she always said I was a water baby and just loved being around the water. I took swim lessons because my parents wanted to ensure I had the skills to keep me safe around water and I just really took to it. I was going off the diving boards at three with no fear. I joined the Yakima Athletic Club swim team when I was five or so. I also played soccer when I was younger and ran track and cross country. Athletics were a great place to get my energy out. I wasn’t necessarily a standout at anything but just really enjoyed sports.
Can you talk about your injury, and how it affected competing?
In 2004 I had qualified for the Olympic Trials, and to prepare for that summer I was doing the most training I had ever done, including long Saturday morning practices typically followed by a strength/mobility circuit. On one particular Saturday we had a two and a half hour pool session planned and then dryland immediately after. One of the dry land activities was Ultimate Frisbee, which we typically played when our summer pool (not heated) was too cold to swim in. Swimmers are usually pretty uncoordinated, so frisbee was great exercise in that we all mostly ran around. On this morning, we split into two teams, and for whatever reason my coach invited a parent to play.
It was a parent I had issues with before. He had a very aggressive and competitive personality. As he began playing, he started hitting people and knocking people down. I told my coach that it wasn’t necessary behavior, but he didn’t do anything. When I approached the parent about it, he was dismissive and taunting which was not the vibe of our practice. On the following play, I went to catch the Frisbee with my arm extended, and he ran into the back of my arm, dislocating it out the front of my joint. We’d learn much later that this particular parent not only dislocated the joint and caused serious tissue trauma but tore the tendons, cartilage and actually broke bone.
How close were you to the Olympic Trials when this injury happened?
This all occurred two months before trials. Those two months were a total blur. My coach stopped caring about my training and performance and seemed more concerned with how it affected him. I didn’t know what to do and my parents didn’t either. We saw various doctors who knew the joint needed attention, but understood my inability to comprehend that. Training had been going really well up until then; I had this goal of making it to finals at the meet and I thought that would set into motion a great recruitment process from colleges and a really successful collegiate swimming career. I couldn’t understand how one person who was so unaffected by his actions could disrupt my life so completely and entirely. I couldn’t process how all my hard work and dedication didn’t matter, but I chose to remain positive and raced at Olympic Trials. I was incredibly unfit (having not swam much at all) and finished last. The experience was amazing and eye opening and I had a lot of love and support surrounding me at that meet, which I will be forever grateful for. That meet was the last I ever swam as an age group swimmer.
That’s devastating. But you still went on to swim in college?
After the meet, I continued to speak with a number of college swimming programs and went on recruiting trips. I was picked up by the University of Southern California, then under coach Mark Schubert. I underwent shoulder surgery the beginning of my senior in high school, but was plagued with pain and weakness and despite my best efforts wasn’t swimming well (or hardly at all). When I was a freshman at USC, I soon found out the first surgery was a failure and had a second surgery in the middle of my freshmen year. Once again, I was suffering from pain and weakness despite the programs best rehab efforts and even trying steroid injections but nothing worked - the doctors recommended I retire and look into a more intense surgery to potentially replace the joint. At that time, I couldn’t even consider not swimming again and refused. I ultimately left USC as it seemed too painful to stay at a school where I was meant to be an athlete. I felt I had failed and others had failed me. More and more, my shoulder hurt and eventually began to display signs of total failure; it was dislocating on it’s own in classes and during sleep. I began to look into surgical options again but questioned if I could do surgery and the rehab process over again. Each surgery required a month or more in a sling with the joint being immobile, so I relied heavily on my family to help me as even the most basic tasks were painful or impossible. I did a lot of research and calling around and I found a surgeon in Seattle who was one of the leading shoulder surgeons in the U.S. I met with him and scheduled the third surgery.
Did the third surgery help?
It was a big surgery. He had to file down dead bone and re-pin the bone and screw the tendons and cartilage back in. Rehab was really hard after that. Then, just as I was coming out of rehab I was working my summer job as a recreation person at Lake Chelan, renting water equipment. I was helping someone carry a canoe, but she misunderstood and got in the canoe when I was carrying it and tore my other shoulder. I had surgery a year later on that one.
Then things were working well and just a few months ago I was swimming to try to train for triathlons. All the sudden my first injured shoulder started hurting again with a very familiar pain. I schedule to see my surgeon, and the MRI showed my shoulder was torn again. Initially I put off the surgery due to scheduling and work conflicts but eventually had my fifth shoulder surgery. The outlook wasn’t great; the shoulder has been worked on so many times that things are permanently becoming frayed and arthritic. While my surgeon has vowed to always keep me swimming, the energy required to keep going through surgeries and rehab (not to mention the loss of strength and mobility each time) takes its toll.
Did you have support throughout your journey?
There are people who have always been there and been super supportive no matter what. Obviously my parents have stood by me and done whatever has been necessary. During all my surgeries, they’ve been there. And it wasn’t even like I had to ask. I know it wasn’t always easy for them, so I am super appreciative of all their help.
I’ve also had a number of friends and family support me along the way. I’ve made some amazingly close friends from swimming. My roommate in college went on and had great swimming success. We are still really close and I’m very grateful for that friendship and all of them along the way. Swimming is such a positive network. Everyone is always so nice to each other. It was a really fun sport to be in.
How do you view your health throughout your athletic career?
I always felt I was really healthy. Growing up, I was on the skinny side. When I was in middle school or junior high I had health issues related to being so skinny. I had a heart murmur from being so active at such a low weight. I grew out of it, but being active and weighing so little made it hard for my body to keep up with what I wanted to do at that age. However, I never had any super serious injuries from training. My parents did a good job of making sure I was eating consistently throughout the day so I could keep up my energy and never doing more than my body could handle. For example, I know a lot of kids want to get into strength training early in high school but my parents kept in mind my size when it came to those activities and made sure I wasn’t overdoing it.
We never ate a lot of junk food and my mom cooked a lot of meals growing up. Even at swim meets she would package snacks and meals ahead of time, which ensured we always had food on hand.
How did you feel about your sport after your injuries caused you to retire?
Initially it was really hard. I was faced with a huge identity crisis as a teenager and still felt I had a lot left to prove and a lot of unresolved pain and frustration surrounding that. I was in the darkness for so long, and then something switched and I realized I couldn’t do that to myself anymore. I was really young, yet felt really old—but it was a gift, not a curse. I finally stopped pitying myself and started living my life.
What helped you get through it?
I had always grown up in the outdoors, and I think I sought refuge there for a long time. I loved going into the mountains and would often drive for a day trip to find some peace and calm. Eventually I saw it as something I could be passionate about whether or not I ever started swimming again. I always wanted to return to swimming but in the meantime I could do this: go hiking, go into the mountains, get a degree in recreation. I like pushing myself and the idea of getting out and exploring was really similar to training in swimming. Once I started exploring beautiful areas and understanding that everyone experiences the outdoors differently, and there is no right or wrong way, swimming started to fade into the past. My drive for redemption faded.
How do you feel about swimming now?
I still love swimming and always will. Now whenever I hear about workouts or see others out swimming in the lake during summer time, I have a yearning to get back out there too. Everyone always asks themselves, “what if” about a lot of things in life, but it’s not a fair question. Our entire lives are full of circumstances and choices that have brought us to the present. But I’m happy about the way things have turned out for me, because most of my most treasured experiences would never have come about if I had continued swimming.
I would never go back to my younger self and pick another sport. I learned a lot and I got to do a lot I would have otherwise never done. It fit me since it is very individualistic sport with a communal element. I’m not always a good team player - I have a tough time dealing with other personalities - but still love to be around other people. For me it was more centered on my ability and work ethic. At least when I was young, you could participate as much or as little as you wanted. There was never a huge push to show dedication and promise at that age. Now it seems like kids are pushed to specialize and excel in one particular sport at a really young age and I know if that was the case for me I never would have swam past middle school. I really respect my parents for staying committed and letting me grow to love that aspect of the sport. I never want my kids to feel like it’s a hassle or a requirement, or not fun, or too intense. I want my kids to do sports. I don’t care what they do, but I want them to do it to learn discipline and how to live a healthy lifestyle and still have fun.
How do you feel about your overall health now?
I feel good. After giving birth to my daughter I had a long journey back to feeling like my former self (and I am still not there) but I am happy with where I am. I have various little things I’ve learned to deal with, but I really try to pay attention to my body and address ailments early on before they become something bigger and require more energy.
What is your current exercise regiment?
I run four or five times per week and try to fit in a strength and ab routine as much as I can. Winters are a bit more difficult here in Montana as we are limited by both weather and our daughters schedule when it comes to activities, but the summers are great!
Do you include anything in your routine for mental health?
I don’t get a whole lot of time to myself, so my workout time is a great time for me to think through things that might be bothering me. I also try to find time to talk to Joel each day, just as individuals and not as mom and dad. I’m also kind of a hermit sometimes socially. I make a conscious decision to meet friends and do new things and things that make me happy. That always seems to help. I have really good friends that I feel like I can talk to without judgment. They are hard to find, and I feel lucky.
Do you feel like your job allows you to have a good work/life balance?
Yes, because I make it that way. But it could easily be the opposite, which I think is true for a lot of people. It’s hard to work from home because the work is literally there, I don’t physically leave my work when I’m done. I’m just walking away from my computer. I try to make my schedule work for me so I can still do stuff with our daughter and ensure things are getting done, but there is no perfect balance. I just started a new career in real estate and am looking into property management and it takes a lot of work initially to get started and set up, but I try to wake up early to make coffee and work before Hana wakes up because it’s important to me that we get to spend time together each day.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
Relax. Breath. Enjoy. Each season of life is so amazing but so short at the same time. Tough times never last and your life is what you make it.
Any last comments?
I wish things happened differently, but I don’t regret it because of what I’ve learned. I’ve learned I’m a strong person. I’ve reflected and grown from the hardships. It’s almost a hilarious story to tell now. I mean really, five shoulder surgeries? The most important thing I always remember is that it’s not a defining characteristic of who I am. I thought my injury would make or break my entire life, and it clearly hasn’t. Stuff changes. I love athletics and sports, and I think they are really important for so many reasons. But I’ve learned there is more to life than training and sports, and when you train at that level, you almost become blind to the rest of life. I love trying to find the elusive balance of it all alongside my family and continue to take on new challenges and experiences with them!
Follow Megan on LinkedIn.