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“I’m very good at being uncomfortable,” says Megan Fisher, DPT ’14. For instance, last June, Fisher bicycled over 200 miles in blistering heat, and she recently climbed Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest active volcanoes.
She has done all this without the lower half of her left leg. “There is this saying: Two legs, too easy,” Fisher says.
From patient to therapist
At age 19, while driving to Missoula, Fisher was in a devastating car accident that left her in a coma and claimed the life of her best friend. The doctors performed a partial foot amputation, and, a year later, Fisher opted to have more of her leg removed. In this way, she could be fitted with a prosthetic that would allow for more range of motion.
Movement is paramount for Fisher, but it hasn’t come easy. The road to recovery has been full of challenges, which physical therapy has helped her navigate. “I spent months in physical therapy on just about everything — sitting tolerance, standing tolerance, re-learning how to walk and do more complex things,” says Fisher.
Her experience inspired her to pursue physical therapy as a career, and she knew where she wanted to go: the UW School of Medicine. She was very happy with her choice. “In Montana, the WWAMI program is known as the ‘Best of the West.’ Everyone wants to go to Seattle,” says Fisher, who graduated with a doctorate in physical therapy in 2014.
Being that person
Because of her own journey, Fisher is better able to relate to her patients. She knows that when she walks into a room, she may not be greeted with enthusiasm.
“Generally, patients don’t feel good, they hurt, and they’re tired. Here is this person who is coming to make you do hard things. So I have a lot of empathy,” says Fisher.
Today, Fisher works in a clinic in Missoula with people who range from age 9 to 93. No matter their mobility issues, Fisher helps them realize how able-bodied they are, which usually means encouraging them to move as much as possible.
“When you help someone understand their body, that’s what I find most rewarding,” says Fisher. “I love being that puzzle piece for them — that person who helps them understand what’s missing and what they need to do to return to a life full of joy.”
When Fisher is presented with an opportunity to try something outside her comfort zone, she says “yes.” That’s how she became a Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Para-cycling Road World Champion, a four-time Paralympic medalist, a seasoned off-road triathlete and a mountain climber.
Fisher doesn’t climb mountains by herself or even for herself. She partners with the Range of Motion Project, a nonprofit that aims to help those living in poverty or without medical access get quality prosthetic care. Their mission aligns well with Fisher’s passion.
“People are only as disabled and impaired as their access to prosthetic care,” says Fisher. “If you don’t have a prosthesis, your days are much longer and harder.”
Fisher can make difficult things look doable, but don’t be fooled. The climb up Cotopaxi was hard, she admits, especially because she’d never trained at such high altitude. Still, Fisher knows how to endure uncomfortable conditions for long stretches of time. This is how she finds her limits and then goes a little bit beyond.
“I believe we’re all more capable than we know. And we don’t know how capable we are until we’re challenged,” Fisher says.