An engineer during her competition days, Harmon is happy to be doing something she’s passionate about.
After missing out on making the U.S. team for the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Megan Harmon’s competitive snowboarding career came to an end. Luckily for her students in Utah, she stayed in the sport as an adaptive snowboard instructor.
“I love it,” Harmon said. “It just reminded me of how hard it is to learn how to snowboard when you only have one leg.”
It’s been more than 11 years since Harmon experienced that for herself. It came after she lost her left leg above the knee after being hit by a car while riding her motorcycle. Always active, she quickly returned to the outdoors.
“That winter I went to Park City and got a snowboarding lesson at the National Ability Center,” Harmon recalled.
The following year, she was asked to join the center’s competitive team and travel to an event in France. She accepted despite having only 15 days of riding experience.
“It was terrifying,” Harmon said. “My hands were shaking in the gate. Looking back at it now, it was like an incredibly easy course. You could go around any of the jump features if you couldn’t do them. But it was still a good experience.”
So Harmon empathizes with beginning snowboarders.
“They’ve been great,” Harmon said. “I’ve had some boys that I’ve worked with every weekend and it was fun seeing them go from never-evers to linking their turns and stuff like that.”
The 31-year-old Huntsville, Alabama, native began instructing last year and is back at it this year at the National Ability Center and at Wasatch Adaptive Sports at Snowbird Resort. To take this new path, she quit her job as a quality engineer working on rocket motors.
“While rockets are interesting, it’s not really something that I’m passionate about,” said Harmon, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. “I would like to move more towards prosthetics manufacturing.”
That’s something she is passionate about. After all, prosthetics allowed Harmon to resume her active lifestyle after the accident.
“I do tons of stuff outdoors. I started mountain biking this summer,” said Harmon, who admits to being “a little bit of an adrenaline junkie.”
Harmon has slowed down enough to backpack a “good chunk” of the 2,653-mile Pacific Crest Trail, and she completed the 100-mile Uinta Highline Trail in nine days. But her snowboarding career shows that she has that need for speed.
After graduating from college, she moved to Utah in January 2012 and began training full time.
“It’s all kind of a blur from there,” said Harmon, who was named to the U.S. team for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
“It was super exciting to begin with,” Harmon said. “It was such an honor, and it was awesome and everyone was so excited. It was pretty sweet.”
Accustomed to near-perfect snow in Utah, Harmon ran into less-than-ideal conditions at Sochi.
“I wasn’t really prepared for how slushy it was,” Harmon said. “So that was like extremely challenging riding for me.”
Harmon placed 10th in snowboardcross at the Games.
“It was still a really cool experience, and I had a ton of fun,” Harmon said. “I’m obviously glad that I went because it was super cool.”
Harmon learned from the experience and came back determined to address her weaknesses.
“I trained into the spring when we have very slushy conditions and learned how to ride that kind of stuff,” Harmon said. “I tried to improve my riding for really icing and really slushy or just not optimum conditions, which I think helped my riding progress a lot from there.”
Harmon wasn’t the only snowboarder working hard after Sochi, however.
“Everybody super stepped up their game, and I was still working full time as an engineer,” Harmon said. “I was training full time. I was working full time. It was a lot. It was very stressful.
“I remember going to Sochi, and there were some features there that I had never ridden before at any of our competitions. That was kind of a step up from what we had seen before, but then the following Games, everything just continued to get bigger and harder.”
Harmon trained hard in 2017 in hopes of making the U.S. team for the 2018 Games. At the 2017 World Para Snowboard Championships at Big White, in British Columbia, she placed fourth in snowboardcross and fifth in banked slalom. It wasn’t enough to secure a spot on the U.S. team.
“Which was pretty devastating,” Harmon admitted.
When her classification was eliminated for the Beijing 2022 Games, Harmon ended her competitive career.
“It seems kind of pointless to keep competing,” Harmon said. “I think what’s especially frustrating is just that we would really love to grow the sport and get more LL1 women involved, but I feel like it’s harder to motivate people when they don’t really have like an end goal at the Paralympics.”
Instead, Harmon has switched her focus to her students, eager to learn from a former Paralympian.
“I think I’ve definitely got a (knack) for it,” said Harmon, who may take it a step further someday. “I would want to move towards the coaching side of things. I really like instructing, and I would love to coach … snowboardcross and stuff like that.”