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Amy Donaldson
Megan Rasmussen stands with her dad, Shon, after the Academic All-State Award ceremony before the 2A state volleyball championship Saturday night at UVU's UCCU Center. He is wearing a T-shirt made by Millard High's volleyball team to raise money to help the family with her medical expenses after a horrific car accident in August.
I know that God is watching out for me. This happened for a reason; there is something I need to learn. —Megan Rasmussen

FILLMORE — As much as Megan Rasmussen loved sports, she dreaded conditioning.

“I hated running,” she said. “So much!”

But after a horrific car accident robbed her of the senior year she thought she’d enjoy, she is seeing a lot of things differently — including some of those experiences she used to loath, avoid or ignore.

“Now I would do anything to just run and work my heart rate up,” said the Millard High senior, shifting to sit on the scooter than supports the ankle that still can’t bear any weight. “It’s hard that my senior year has totally changed, but it’s totally opened my eyes to what’s really important. I’ve just realized there are more important things than volleyball. It’s not the only thing that can give me happiness.”

An all-state softball and volleyball player, Megan worked hard to prepare for a senior year that might include region and state title runs, as well as individual accolades. But days before the volleyball season began, she fell asleep while driving to Fillmore from Salt Lake City with her mother and two younger siblings.

The teen was the only member of her family not wearing a seat belt and was ejected as the vehicle rolled.

“It was really weird that I wasn’t wearing a seat belt,” she said, acknowledging that usually she buckled up. “I haven’t really let myself get mad at myself for the seat belt. … There is no one to blame but me.”

Her father, Shon, was at home in Fillmore (about 145 miles from Salt Lake City) when an unknown number appeared on his cellphone. It was his wife telling him that they’d been in a car accident, and that Megan was being flown to Utah Valley Medical Center in Orem — just a couple of miles from where she spent this weekend as her team competed in the 2A state volleyball tournament.

The family’s first conversations with doctors had to do with broken bones — two vertebrae in her neck, her pelvis, her arm and a shattered ankle that had to be totally rebuilt. She spent hours in surgery, but doctors were optimistic.

“We were feeling pretty good that day,” Shon said. “Later that night, the neurosurgeon came in to talk to us about the brain injury.” That conversation, he said, was much more terrifying.

“He said, ‘With those, you never know,’” Shon said as his daughter unconsciously slid her hand to the neck brace she still wears to immobilize her broken spine. “‘She may make a full recovery. From what I’ve seen on the MRI, that would be a really slight chance. The other end of the spectrum, and looking at her injuries, she may never be conscious again.’”

The family had already been praying, but after that conversation, they sought spiritual support from the small town they call home.

“We’re a very close-knit community,” he said. “The whole town started praying.”

After learning the difference between reflexive and cognitively motivated movements, they begged Megan to give them a thumbs up sign.

“All through the day, we’d been asking her,” Shon said. “When she finally did it, we cheered and cried and hugged.”

A day later, they took her breathing tube out, and she responded to her family members’ voices with their names.

Nine days after her accident, she woke up. She talked to some neighbors, who were part of the procession of visitors from small towns in rural Utah.

Every day since then has been both a gift and an education. She lost the senior season she thought she’d have.

But she gained perspective that she said has enriched her life and deepened her faith.

After collecting her Academic All-State Award before the 2A state volleyball championship match, she said she’d be cheering for Enterprise as it took on defending 2A champion North Summit.

The Wolves held a fundraiser to help her family with medical bills, as did her own team and home town. The players stopped on their way home from a volleyball tournament to visit her in the hospital.

They even gave her a moment she thought the accident had stolen — standing on the court with her teammates on senior night.

“They won the coin toss, but they picked receive so we could have the first serve,” she said. “The ball didn’t really come close to me, but it was really touching. … Senior night was hard because it was recognizing the season that I didn’t have. I broke down. I was bawling.”

Adds her dad, who is wearing a T-shirt her volleyball coach sold to raise money for the family, “The audience gave her a standing ovation.”

During her darkest moments, Megan said she turned to her LDS faith — prayer, reading scriptures and asking Shon for "a father’s blessing."

“It helps me feel at peace,” she said, adding that she doesn’t feel like the crash was an accident. “I know that God is watching out for me. This happened for a reason; there is something I need to learn. The thing is, it’s not like God caused this on me. He protected me. I could have been way worse. I can walk someday. I got so lucky.”

Megan still loves sports, still feels that competitive fire, and cannot wait to get back to doing even those things she once loathed on a sports field of any kind. But she sees competition differently now because those teams she once saw as opponents or rivals are friends.

They were one-dimensional objects that stood between her and success. Now they are an integral part of the joy she feels when she dreams about returning to the games.

“It was just so touching,” she said. “I’m so grateful that the team would even stand there for even one play. … They set aside competition and looked at what’s really important. They dug deep to help me out, and it really touches my heart.”

Shon Rasmussen isn’t surprised by the support his family has felt throughout the accident and recovery from friends and strangers alike.

“More moved than surprised,” he said. “You see the goodness in people come out over and over.”