Megan Hurley doesn’t let anything keep her down. After suffering from a traumatic brain injury in 2008, she decided to turn tragedy into inspiration by becoming a World of Dance U-Jam Fitness instructor. WOD Magazine recently got a chance to chat with Megan about overcoming self-doubt and never losing hope.
In 50 words or less, give us a short biography of yourself.
Megan is a 2008 traumatic brain injury survivor and World of Dance U-Jam Fitness instructor, as dance fitness became her ongoing rehabilitative therapy. Previously, she was a high school English teacher and counselor. She volunteers with the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation & Peer Support Network. Megan’s goal is speaking about brain injury, disability acceptance & perseverance.
When did you start dancing/choreographing?
I have no dance, gymnastic, fitness or athletic background. I always wanted to be on the dance or cheerleading teams, but I let other people’s opinions of me bring my self-esteem down, and stay with me. So I doubted myself and questioned my ability compared to other people. Eventually, I learned to pause, take a breath—reset. I have FUN dancing and teaching and creating choreography with people. I LOVE the music and I became a Zumba instructor in 2008.
How did you get involved with U-JAM?
In 2015, I took my first U-Jam Fitness® class, stumbling through every second and loved it. I emailed the instructor that night thanking her for the class, but said I wouldn’t be back because I wasn’t ready or coordinated enough for it. She was so encouraging from the start & replied that I did great, brought so much energy and really should come to class again. She kept me on Messenger until I started to feel better about myself. I went back the next week feeling happy & excited. I stumbled through the warm up again, but I didn’t care–I let go. The instructor winked at me and I felt like a rockstar. I even signed up to dance in the Cultural Night performance at the local college 2 weeks later! The 3 of us from class PLUS all of the students from her other classes showed up in full swag. We didn’t know anyone. We did a quick practice & took a team picture practice and took our spots on stage. I was so scared to perform, but we all helped each other out and came together as a team.
How did your traumatic brain injury affect your life?
Everything I knew suddenly changed without any notice and without a plan for how to navigate the new road. My personal and professional life is not the same and will never be the same as it was previously. I now accept that, but it leaves me to answer the question of what do I do when my life and dreams are out of my control.
Accepting that my life exists in a ‘new normal’ is hard because I remember my ‘old normal.’ I actually went through a grieving process on the loss of my former professional life, one that I will not return to again.They don’t give you a TBI manual when being released from the hospital. There is no standard operating procedure of what to expect. My husband and I had to learn as much as possible on our own about a TBI, as well as how to care for someone with a TBI at home.
Suffering from a TBI means not knowing how to find my identity again, literally and figuratively. I remember asking my doctor when I got to go home in 2008 when I would feel normal again. He told me that I wouldn’t ever feel the same because my old life doesn’t exist anymore.
Adjusting away from the past and out of our comfort zones, the unfamiliar can be overwhelming; but we can’t live in the before. Life pushes us ahead; forward to the next chapter. We have the choice to stare backward at our life before, or open our eyes to everything after, that is new to explore.
I’m one of the lives that U-Jam Fitness® changed and now I want to change another life, one beat at a time. Through U-Jam Fitness® I am pushing farther than I thought possible. I became an instructor to reach this next step in my recovery so I can give back and make a difference by providing even one person with inspiration to try for that out-of-reach brass ring and not give up.
How has fitness/dance played a role in your recovery?
Dance fitness feeds my soul. I never thought I would find myself in the dance fitness world. If I hadn’t been accepted and welcomed for who I was at those first and second classes, I don’t know who I would be now.
When friends look at pictures of me taken during these events, they tell me that I look like I’m glowing and have never looked happier, especially when I’m not looking at the camera. Dance fitness became part of my rehabilitative therapy as it was during those classes I began to make my comeback, gaining stamina and strength so I could become a licensed instructor. I grew into leading fundraising events in the community and teaching classes free of charge. It’s important to me to give back for everything the dance fitness community; especially U-Jam Fitness® did, and still does, for me. I believe I can reach a wider audience locally, and hopefully globally, through dance fitness.
What were some of the biggest struggles you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
Four days before Instructor Training Day my body gave out and I was done. Dancing the same step over and over and over activated the nerve damage on my the pain on my left side back due to a previous injury returned. I fell apart, standing alone on the stage literally torn. My coach was a true rock for me. I told him about stabbing pain I felt and that I was wearing my pain patches for the first time after eight months of physical therapy. Some people might have held off on the training for another month, but not this survivor!
I wanted to be a U-Jam instructor ever since my first instructor encouraged me to come back to class. My U-Jam friends encouraged to sign up for the 9-hour long, physically draining day. Halfway through the training, my body felt such a high pain level that I really wanted to give up and go home because I was so overwhelmed. My coach, and dear friend, saw that I was having trouble. He told me to take a break, sat with me, got me an ice pack, listened to my concerns and reminded me that I had the strength to persevere. I took a deep breath, hit ‘reset’ and was present with the rest of the group without a second thought. I passed my training and am so excited to participate and grow with the U-Jam Fitness® community.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
Each day is a challenge as a TBI survivor, but the support from my loved ones encourages me to fight forward for other survivors. I’m very honored to have written and published, Hope Survives: Strength After A Traumatic Brain Injury, my story of recovery with a greater message of HOPE. All proceeds are donated directly to the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation. The book is not only for people affected by brain injuries, but for anyone who has faced a challenge and wants to believe in the power of hope.
Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I recently joined the Peer Support Network in San Diego. Our goal is to create a future for adults with acquired disabilities, one survivor at a time. We are planning a Ujam/Zumba fundraiser at Move Dance Studio in La Mesa on Sunday, December 1 at 11am-12:30pm. We’re building a community for adults with acquired disabilities to keep them from feeling alone and help them succeed in a world designed for the abled. It’s time to push social boundaries so people living with disabilities don’t feel stigmatized.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I have lots of skills and experience as an event planner. I can put a small cocktail party together at the last second with whatever snacks you have! I also make the best brownies in the world. There is a trick to it that I learned in college.
Anything else you think our readers would like to know?
1) U-Jam isn’t just about class, music and students- it’s about people. On March 30, 2019, I lead team WALK STRONG WITH MEGAN in the San Diego Brain Injury Foundation’s annual fundraiser for brain injury recovery resources. I am so blessed that fellow instructors, students and family joined the team and walked with me. It was beautiful to be together for charity and then had breakfast as a team together after.
2) I will not be a silent survivor. My journey is mine to tell without needing permission from anyone.
We do not have just one moment that defines our entire life or tells our whole story. Every moment in our lives matter and everything we do is important. There are countless times I could have chosen to give up on this journey. Instead, I chose hope, and I will continue to do so, discovering new parts of myself, dancing with confidence and facing the world head-first in my new normal.
We are not alone in this world. Each of us is looking to make a connection. We hold our open hands and hearts out as human beings without judgement. That is how a community can develop with a foundation of optimism and hope, as hope survives.