A North Texas community has provided overwhelming support for a high school cheerleader who suffered a catastrophic injury just a few months ago - and whose spirit is inspiring everyone around her.
The steps taken by high school senior Megan Sharkey are both small - and big. A representation of how far she has come. And a tribute to the community that supported her through the hardest days of her life.
"This many people care about me? This many people want to help me? This many people love me?" Megan said. "I just remember feeling like, I am so loved."
The cheer community at the Spirit Xtreme gym in Southlake loves Megan so much because of both the way she pours into young athletes as a coach (NAT), and the leadership she showed on her own team on their way to incredible success.
"Last year in April, my team won All-Star Worlds," Megan said. "It's like the biggest competition of the year and you have to get invited to it."
"She's like a light, she literally walks into a room and you know that she is there," said Spirit Xtreme owner Walter Meriwether. "You can't tell Megan 'no' because her determination is great."
Determined then to be an elite cheerleader, and determined now to take steps toward returning to the mat.
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On May 21, 2022, Megan was involved in a boating accident on Lake Grapevine that included her legs being injured badly by the boat's propeller.
"I definitely knew it was life-threatening," Megan said. "I prayed to God in the lake and asked Him, please don't take my legs. I want to travel when I'm older. God, I want to see so much and so many people. Please help me through this. I want to live, I'm not ready yet."
"Some of the things the doctors were saying just did not click with me," said Megan's mother P.K. Sharkey. "I remember thinking they are talking about someone else. This cannot be my baby."
Megan had lost a lot of blood and had suffered a compound tibia and fibula fracture, a broken heel, and numerous tissue wounds that required hundreds of stitches and staples.
"Probably within ten minutes of getting to the hospital, the gym owners were there," P.K. said. "I never called them. Within 30 minutes, Melissa Meriwether said I think you need more help. I think you need some prayers."
"We were leaving the gym and we got a call and a mom who said Megan had been hurt and it was pretty bad," Walter said. "We said, 'Where is she?' And we immediately took a right, without even thinking, we took a right and went to her."
But the support from the Spirit Xtreme community extended beyond hospital visits by owners Walter and Melissa Meriwether.
A prayer vigil packed out the gym. Shirts were made with the phrase "Sharkey Strong." And the letters and cards sent to Megan from girls she had coached and cheered with came by the hundreds.
"I just always felt loved," Megan said. "I was lonely, but I knew people were there. I got calls, texts, FaceTimes, saw shirts team moms were making with my name on it."
"It was immediate and it was overwhelming to us as owners and definitely overwhelming for P.K. and Megan," Walter said. "But that's part of our culture. That's what we do."
That Spirit Xtreme support - and Megan's spirit of determination - combined to convince doctors she was ready to return home earlier than expected. And it wasn't long until she was back in her second home - Spirit Xtreme - and watching her teammates practice without her, but with a noticeable difference.
"They left a space open in the circle," P.K. said. "They were adamant in letting her know they are saving a space for her."
"Loyalty. That's the name of the team. Which I think is perfect."
An open spot left for Megan by the team - and a fire lit inside her to begin attacking her physical therapy five days a week, with a monumental moment coming a few months later on the same mat on which prayers for her healing had come just months before.
"The first steps were at Spirit Xtreme," Megan said. "I think it's a tremendous attribute to what Spirit Xtreme has done for me these past couple months, and twelve years, but especially these past few months."
"It was like watching your own kid take her first steps again," Walter said. "It was pretty exciting, emotional, overwhelming, just full of joy."
Steps taken without assistance, and now, back walking consistently without help. Megan has returned to coaching young athletes and has also rejoined her team in person in a leadership position, as she walks around the mat as "Loyalty" practices every week - still with that open spot.
Taking steps that are both small - and big. And back moving toward a goal that, not long before, seemed unthinkable.
"I would love to compete again competitively," Megan said. "Even if that means not tumbling, just stunting and being on the mat with my team. I'm not alone in this. And this moment does not define me."
Megan Sharkey says she is committed to the motto: "Create your own timeline," and hopes others going through challenging circumstances will join her in working to exceed expectations in their recovery.