Meg Fisher: World Champion, Paralympian, and NICA Coach

August 24, 2020

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Meg Fisher won Paralympic gold, silver and Bronze medals in the Rio 2016 and London 2012 games and ten world championships and is a NICA Coach for the Montana League. Meg’s road to success has not been easy. At 19 years old she was involved in a tragic car accident that nearly killed her. She survived a coma and lost the lower portion of her left leg. Meg worked hard to heal and move beyond her new physical limitations.

Today, she is dedicated to helping erase limits, change lives, and demonstrate the capacity of the human body and spirit. “It’s a privilege to be a part of NICA this year. Missoula’s cycling community inspired and supported me for so many years and I feel very lucky for the opportunity to pay it forward to the next generation of riders,” says Meg Fisher.  

We are so happy to have her energy, experience and attitude on the NICA team. Recently we caught up with her to talk about her inspiring journey and her new role with NICA.  

NICA - What is your role with NICA?
MF - My role in NICA is as a coach. I join the kids and other coaches on Monday nights.  It’s super fun to ride with athletes of all levels.  Some of the kids can do tricks that I can’t and I love learning from them!

NICA - How did you get involved with NICA?
MF - Another coach, Paul Floyd, drew me into NICA. I’d heard of Missoula’s NICA Team, and I didn’t know they were looking for coaches.  

NICA -  Please share with our community the highlights of your incredible life, the challenges you have overcome. 
MF - Oh goodness, a summary of my life… I feel a bit like I’m writing my obituary. What a great opportunity to reflect on what has been and try to influence the next chapter that comes next.

Sports have always been a part of my life. As a shy kid growing up, having a team allowed me to make friends and build lasting relationships that have spanned decades. Additionally, the team environment resonated with my personality growing up and continues to be the framework for my adult professional life. I love how teammates lift each other up.  

I wasn’t very old when a life changing injury derailed my life. You see, when I was 19 years old, I thought I had it all figured out. And for the short term, I did! I was playing tennis for a team that I loved and pursuing a college degree in a place that I loved. All in all, I was living my dream!  

In the summer of 2002, when I was still 19 years old, I was involved in a roll over car accident with my best friend who also happened to be my first love. I was the only one to survive. However, at the time, they weren’t sure if I would make it. After some brain surgery and some time in a coma, the doctors knew I would wake up sometime... but they weren’t sure if I would be cognitively intact. Meaning, they we’re sure how much brain damage I had sustained.  Once the doctors addressed my brain injury, they went on to treat my other injuries. This included amputating my left foot. In the accident, my left leg got mangled and amputation was the only option.  

After a month in the hospital, Life Flight, a medical flight service,  flew me back to my mom’s house in Chicago, Illinois. I was still too weak and injured to fly commercially nor able to drive in a car. When I was back in Chicago, I underwent extensive physical therapy. My brain injury was really tough to overcome. The area of my brain that got most injured impacted my personality and my ability to write. Interestingly, my new personality is much more gregarious and bold!  

Eventually, I returned to the tennis court, because I wanted to get back to playing with my tennis teammates. As much as I wanted to get back to a high level of tennis, my body could not perform... even though my heart was dedicated and strong as ever.  

At one point, a health care professional told me that I might never walk again. His words could have been crushing, but instead they were inspiring.  I heard his words and I thought to myself, “ This guy doesn’t know me!  I’ll show him.”  

I teamed up with a service dog named Betsy the Wonder Dog. She helped me initially by pulling my wheelchair, fetching my crutches and picking up things that I dropped. Eventually, I regained the ability to walk and Betsy was still by my side. I wanted to be able to walk her and play with her, but I wasn’t yet strong enough to hike nor run. I had seen people mountain biking with their dogs and a light bulb went off. I figured out quickly that, on a bike, I’m as able as anyone else. Betsy and I became a team on the trails and we both got stronger and fitter. I gained confidence in my physical abilities and regained my athletic identity.  

By being on the trails with a super cute dog, I met new friends. Those new friends provided a community like my tennis teammates once were. The bike community welcomed me and I quickly got introduced to 24hr mountain bike racing and XTERRA Off-Road Triathlon. In both events I found success which propelled me to try other more challenging races.  

With more dedicated training, I eventually earned a position on the US Paratriathlon Team which gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and race with a team.

In 2009, I began racing with the US Paracycling Team. “Para” means alongside in Greek.  I really like this designation, as Para does not mean less than. In fact, paracycling is one of the most competitive sports with athletes racing on international pro teams as well as their national para team. Paralympic sports are designated for athletes with physical impairments like limb loss, paraplegia, visual impairments, and dwarfism.  

The Paralympic Games and the Olympic Games are held in the same venues, in the same year, but two weeks apart. I was astounded to learn that the Paralympics are often better attended by spectators than the Olympic Games.  Unfortunately, most TV time is dedicated to the Olympics, so many viewers don’t know much about the Paralympics. 

The Paracycling Team became my family and many of the athletes, current and retired are just like family to me. We stay in contact almost daily. Racing alongside them pushed me to my physical limits and beyond. The bike and my teammates gave my life a solid foundation to springboard off from. Over my nearly ten years with the National Team, I earned one gold medal, two silver and one bronze medal at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. Additionally, I’ve earned 10 World Championships and many National Championships. It’s been a wild ride and I can’t believe it’s been my life!!

NICA - You have won so many amazing races, what do you consider your greatest victory?
MF - I don’t have a favorite race or a top memory. This might sound uneventful... but alI I can say is that I gave my all at every race. I held nothing back and am proud of my gold medal victories and my humble last place finishes. Yes, I’ve finished last before. But the thing is, I was a million miles ahead of the person who stayed on the couch.  

NICA - What is your biggest focus now?
MF - Since retiring, I’ve had the chance to shift my focus from shorter distance international races to longer distance national races. I now pursue mostly mountain and gravel bike races that are often over 100 miles and get to travel around the country. I love the camaraderie at events. The energy is contagious!

NICA - What other sports do you enjoy? Are you competitive in those as well?
MF -  I don’t play tennis much anymore. Mostly because I miss how I used to play with two feet. That may sound lame or like I’m making excuses or maybe even feeling sorry for myself. No way. Not at all. We all have only so much time in our lives. If I have a free hour, I usually like to spend it with my new puppy. He needs lots of attention. If I have a few hours free, I usually choose to spend it on my bike. The events I’m involved in require endurance. So I have to be on my bike a lot!  

In the winter, I like to get out on the court.  Since in Montana, there’s lots of snow and not a lot of light in the winter, I like to get out and cross train. Tennis requires totally different motions than on a bike.  I go out and hit against a ball machine.  I want to be a reliant and dynamic athlete. So it’s important to do cross training. 

NICA - Outside of riding and volunteering for NICA, what keeps you busy?
MF - I keep busy as a doctor of physical therapy and as a coach. I love working with other people to help them reach their goals. As a coach, I get to work with people across the country. Each one of my athletes right now has a different cycling or fitness goal and it’s super fun to help them unlock their potentials.  

NICA - What is the best advice you received when you were an up and coming rider, and from whom?
MF - Best advice I’ve gotten... hmm... I’ve had some great coaches, mentors and teammates along the way. I truly believe with all of my being that we are more capable than we know. With that in mind, I don’t back down from a challenge. I think the best advice I can give is to eliminate the subjunctive tense from our vocabulary as much as possible. The subjunctive tense includes could, shoulder, and would. The subjunctive tense deals with things that aren’t real. Which is different than the indicative tense that deals with the present. The indicative tense includes words like need and want. The subjunctive tense carries a lot more guilt with it. Consider these two sentences; “I should do my homework” versus “I need to do my homework.” Or “ I could ride my bike” versus “I want to ride my bike.”

NICA - How do you think your experiences help you in your current profession?
MF - Whenever we coach or teach someone else anything, we are in many ways coaching ourselves or refining our own mental dialogue. I love to learn and learning how to better coach is incredibly rewarding.  

NICA - Thank you for taking the time to share your inspirational story and great advice with our community! 
MF - My pleasure! I am so grateful for the people who created and organize NICA and the GRIT Program. What an opportunity up and coming riders have to explore their abilities and develop new skills! Not to forget the great community of fellow riders!!