As a teenager, Meghan Graham of Minnetonka was a five-time national snowboard racing champion for her age group. By 2012, Graham was crowned the U.S. slalom champion for women in the open division.
“She was on track to be an Olympian,” said Jessica Zalusky, director of the Twin Cities-based G Team, the largest competitive snowboard team in the country.
Two significant concussions caused Graham to retire from the sport in 2013, but she didn’t give it up. Within a few years, she turned to coaching youngsters, and several of them, like her, also became champion snowboard racers.
Graham died unexpectedly April 21 in Minnetonka from complications of her head injuries. She was 24. The news reverberated throughout the snowboarding world.
“Across the country, there is a lot of shock and devastation,” Zalusky said. “Everyone just spent two weeks in Colorado where she was coaching athletes to the national title. … We were talking about next season. She was so excited.”
Graham was born in Mountain View, Calif., and her parents, Jennifer and Rick Graham, who grew up in Minnesota, moved the family back to the state in 2001. Her father said that in a family of skiers, Meghan was exposed to snowboarding when she was in grade school.
“She loved it,” Rick Graham said. “She was fearless.”
Zalusky called Graham a natural talent, but “more than that, she was driven and motivated.”
At 16, she moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where she trained every day while working to complete her high school degree. She eventually racked up 70 regional wins over the course of her career. Her brother and best friend Ricky became a star snowboarder, too, winning the national championship in his age division in 2014.
Zalusky said Meghan Graham gave coaching the same intensity she had given competition. She excelled quickly as an Alpine coach and within a year was coaching the pro-am team and traveling on the North American championship circuit where top riders compete.
“I had a lot of respect for her coaching style,” said Lily Janousek, 15, of Greenwood. “She knew exactly how the snow felt and how racing felt.”
Jason Gust, a manager at Tonka Cycle and Ski in Hopkins, said the store sponsored Graham when she was racing.
“She was very determined to do well,” he said. “She pushed it all the time. Super happy, super stoked to do everything. She was never in a bad mood. Even when she crashed and had an injury, she looked forward to getting back on snow.”
A graduate of Minnetonka High School, Graham was a student at Normandale Community College and spoke of pursuing a career in therapeutic recreation. She worked part-time at DayBridge Adult Day Services at the Glenn Hopkins senior facility in Hopkins where she had a special affinity for older people, said Jackie Byington, the adult day director. “She loved our people,” Byington said.
Once a week, she’d bring her dog, Summit, to the facility.
Byington said that on Good Friday, two days before she died, Graham and Summit arrived at the facility, both wearing bunny ears, while she passed out candy from a basket to the entire campus.
“She was loved by everyone,” Byington said.
A few days after her death, about 200 people including family and friends and members of the snowboarding community gathered on the beach in the commons area in Excelsior and made tie-dye shirts in her honor.
“She loved to wear them,” said Zalusky.
A Tie-Dye Celebration service is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 9 at the Woods Chapel, 525 Leaf St., Long Lake. Attendees may gather in the amphitheater at 1 p.m.