Stanly County native to compete for Miss Virginia, advocate for health literacy

Published 3:56 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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This article is reprinted with permission from Old Dominion University.

By David Simpson

Cue the costume change.

In late April and early May, Megan Frick finished her doctor of physical therapy degree at Old Dominion University, passed her licensure exam and started work at ODU Monarch Physical Therapy.

At the end of June, she’ll trade her clinic gear for an evening gown and compete for the title of Miss Virginia.

“I’m really looking forward to representing this area,” said Frick, the reigning Miss Hampton/Newport News. The preliminary rounds start June 29 at the Berglund Center in Roanoke, with crowning on July 1.

For Frick, the pageant is serious business. Besides the title and crown, the winner receives $20,000 in scholarship money. And Frick will have a chance to push her pet project — a health screening and health literacy initiative she created last year.

It’s not a topic she dreamed up just for the pageant. Health literacy is a subject that burns within her.

It all comes down to what happened to her mother.

Frick grew up in Albemarle. By age 5, she was telling people she wanted to be a doctor.

But when she was 9, her father, a hair stylist, died.

It was a financial blow as well as an emotional one. Megan’s mother, a private-school teacher, made little money and couldn’t afford health insurance.

“And my mom just never remarried,” Frick said. “It was really hard because, as someone who should have been enjoying being a kid, I never really got to do that. And so that was something I knew even as a 9-year-old: that the journey to getting what I wanted out of life was going to be kind of an uphill battle.”

She found a refuge in sports — track, volleyball, basketball, soccer. Along the way, though, she realized that the sight of blood made her sick. That meant she could never be a physician or surgeon. But in a 12th-grade athletic training class she learned about physical therapy.

“Hearing that physical therapists are able to help, basically, stretch things that are tight and strengthen things that are weak, I thought, ‘That actually sounds like something I’d be really good at.’ ”

Megan Frick, formerly of Stanly County, will compete for the Miss Virginia title in June. (Photo by JOHN HERZOG, courtesy of Megan Frick and ODU)

She enrolled at Campbell University in Buies Creek and majored in kinesiology, pre-physical therapy track. She also worked for the school’s football team, assisting the director of operations and director of recruitment.

One day, during her sophomore year, her uncle and aunt showed up unexpectedly at her dorm room. It wasn’t a social visit. Frick’s mother had died of a massive heart attack.

“I fell to the floor. It was by far the worst moment of my life because my mom was my best friend,” Frick said. “All we really had was each other. So I felt like part of me died that day, too.

“I did not even know she was sick. She didn’t really know she was sick.”

As word spread across campus, a little light penetrated her darkness. Campbell’s football coach offered her a full-tuition athletic scholarship if she agreed to keep working for the team, Frick said. Stunned and grateful, she accepted.

But then she learned her mother had left a heavy debt. Creditors made it plain: Frick had one year to pay back the full amount, $87,000. To her, it was an unimaginable sum.

“I had never even seen $1,000, much less $87,000,” she recalled.

She had no choice but to put the family house on the market.

By Christmastime it had not sold, and she had to vacate her dorm for winter break. But she couldn’t stay in the North Carolina house, because there was no power or water. Instead, she slept on friends’ couches. She hit a low point.

Then came a phone call from out of the past. It was her favorite high school teacher, Mrs. Evans. Would Frick like to come spend Christmas with her and her family?

Lori and Chad Evans had a son, then 9, and a daughter, 14. Frick shared a bed with the girl for two weeks. Before Frick returned to school, the Evanses offered to convert their dining room into a bedroom so she could stay with them whenever she was off from classes.

The family “has been a huge blessing to me,” Frick said. “I started going back there during all of my breaks.”

In March 2019, the Evanses went a step further, officially adopting her.

“Megan just completed our family,” said Lori Evans. “She’s overcome so much. We’re super proud of her.”

Frick had never heard of adult adoption, “but they adopted me so that I could have health insurance and so they would officially be saying that they are taking care of me the way that my mom would have wanted.”

When it came time to look at graduate schools, Frick visited and applied to just one institution: Old Dominion University. The brother of a friend had gone there. When the Evanses drove her to campus, she knew instantly: “In my head and in my heart, this was the place.”

In the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program, she quickly found her area of focus.

“Neurological conditions are my jam,” Frick said, “because I love the way the brain works. People who have had strokes or have other neurological conditions are really where you see the most drastic change in someone’s status.

“And I think it takes really special people to work with those individuals, because it can be draining at times and you have to have empathy and patience. And what also drew me to that population was, like, these are the people I think I can help the most.”

She was wowed by the standardized patient program ODU offers through EVMS, where people portray patients for the training of healthcare professionals, and by ODU Monarch Physical Therapy’s high-tech pair of bionic legs, known as REX, which allow the wearer to experience normal movement patterns, even when the person’s muscles can’t activate themselves.

“Megan was a terrific student in the DPT program, and I am delighted that she joined our team at ODU Monarch Physical Therapy when she graduated,” said Assistant Professor Lisa Koperna, who directs the clinic.

Frick said of her experience in the program: “Honestly, it’s just been everything that I could have imagined.”

After her mother died, Frick started brainstorming ways to help people recognize the symptoms of disease, especially uninsured people who don’t see a doctor regularly. People like her mom.

Late last year, Frick started a knowledge bank and health screening initiative she calls S.I.M.plify Healthcare, using her mother’s initials. It’s designed, she says, to help improve health literacy and provide accessible resources to underserved communities. She distributes health information using her personal social media accounts.

“I’ve been creating graphics that cover anything from high blood pressure to diabetes to Parkinson’s disease — I’m trying to kind of run the gamut, to show as many people as possible different things to look out for and let them know when they need to get checked out.”

As part of her activities, she is partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of America for a community health day June 10 at 629 Hampton Ave. in Newport News. Healthcare professionals and local graduate students will be on hand to offer free screenings.

S.I.M.plify Healthcare will get a plug when Frick presents her platform at the Miss Virginia event. She’ll compete on June 29 in lifestyle and fitness and evening gown competitions, and answer a question onstage. For the talent portion on June 30, she’ll sing a Broadway number — she can’t reveal which one —that encapsulates her journey.

That $20,000 in scholarship money would come in handy, given that she’d like to work on a Ph.D. Regardless of the outcome, she vows to keep working hard.

“In everything I do now,” she said, “I always think of how proud my mom would be of me.”