Have you heard about Amy Van Dyken-Rouen? I just found out what an amazing athlete she is: six Gold medals in Olympic swimming competitions, four at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and two at the Sydney Games in 2000. In 1996, she was the most successful athlete of those Olympics winning the most medals of any competitor from any country. She’s also won several World titles and set many American and world swimming records.
That was then. And now ….
… In June of this year, she was in an ATV accident that severed her spinal cord at T-11 and left her paralyzed from the waist down. She did her rehab at Craig Hospital in Denver, and after only three months is out and appearing on TV. I first saw her on Meredith Vieira’s new syndicated talk show where Amy made light of the host’s remarks that she’s inspirational and courageous by retorting: “I love life.”
Appearing with her husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, Amy said that she hadn’t been home for three months, and didn’t know how accessible her Arizona home would be. But Vieira surprised her guest with the news that Amy’s home had been retrofitted to make it more accessible, compliments of the show.
After admitting that “carpets and narrow doorways are my new enemy,” she was taken into her home via the magic of television so she could see the changes. Just the kitchen alone is something for the rest of us to salivate over: the island was lowered; so was the sink and the stove top, with plenty of room to roll under. And the piece de resistance: Cabinets that drop down to her height at the push of a button.
Even someone so familiar with the media spotlight could not hold back the tears when she saw her newly accessible home.
Amy also appeared on the “Today” show in an interview with Matt Lauer where she said that one of her goals is to walk again on her own. She told Lauer that she’s been working with a trainer on muscle activation. “He helped me get back to the Olympics after two shoulder surgeries, why can’t he get me back up on my feet now?” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”
On Aug. 22, Huffington Post and USA Today reported that Amy had stood up and walked with the help of a powered exoskeleton and a walker. However, she later clarified on Twitter: “I want everyone to know I was NOT walking at all under my own power. I was using a type of exoskeleton — it was not me moving it!”
Amy Van Dyken-Rouen has chronicled her evolving new life on social media through her Instagram and Twitter accounts — a cathartic experience for her and her fans. Even if I hadn’t heard about her Olympic conquests, I plan to keep my eyes on her quest to live a fulfilling life from now on.