Student Voices:
Making Gains

Cyclist and Student Megan Fisher

In the last issue, we mentioned Liza Benson, a MEDEX student who died in an avalanche
in 2013. Her mother,
Liz — at the far right
in the photo, taken at a MEDEX graduation ceremony — wrote back.

It was a breathtaking few weeks for then 29-year-old Megan Fisher: first, winning gold and silver cycling medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, then getting engaged not long after at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “It was an incredible journey,” says Fisher, a physical therapy student at UW Medicine.

The beginning of Fisher’s athletic and professional journey began, however, when she was a good deal younger — and absorbed by a completely different sport.

“I was three years old when I got my first tennis racket,” Fisher says. She played competitively at the University of Montana while studying wildlife biology, and she and her best friend, Sara Jackson, taught tennis at a summer camp in Chicago. The two had big plans. When they returned to Missoula, Mont., in the fall, Fisher and Jackson were going to share an apartment. And they were going to become teachers.

Everything changed on June 30, 2002, during their road trip from Chicago to Missoula. Fisher doesn’t remember the car accident on I-90 that cost her left foot and — in a heartbreaking turn of events — took Sara Jackson’s life. What she does remember is the doctors’ decision to amputate her foot and the long road to recovery that, thanks to physical therapy, became the road to athletic excellence. Fitted with a prosthetic foot, Fisher did her first triathlon two years after the accident and 11 months after the amputation. Later she became deeply interested in cycling, and when she developed a painful hip injury in 2010, she began work with a physical therapist.

“My PT was awesome,” says Fisher, and she credits the PT not only with alleviating her pain, but also with helping her win two Paralympic medals. “She gave me the confidence that I could lead a fulfilling, pain-free life, and that I had what it took to become a physical therapist, too.” Fisher then decided to apply to the physical therapy program at UW Medicine.

Dissection, anatomy — Fisher enjoys school, and she admires her teachers’ expertise in their fields. She’s also appreciated the curriculum; even in the program’s first two years, when students are mostly based in the classroom, they still have contact with real patients.

Fisher remembers one such patient, who was recuperating from a stroke and having trouble walking. The students made a suggestion: practice walking in front of a mirror. It worked so well — an asymmetrical gait evolving into a neutral gait right then and there — that the patient started to cry. So did the students. “It was proof that there were still gains to be made,” says Fisher.

Fisher is uncertain what her future holds. She may return to practice in Missoula, Mont., where she owns a house and some chickens. She’s considering working in a clinic, though she’s unsure of the specialty she might like to pursue: sports medicine, oncology, pediatrics. Not least, the former tennis instructor is considering earning a doctorate and becoming a teacher — in anatomy and physiology. There are professors Fisher would like to emulate, and she remembers the long-ago plan that she formulated with her friend, Sara.

First, though, there are more cycling competitions. And a wedding. And a graduation. “I want to do everything right now,” Fisher says. If history is any indication, she will.

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