SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Amy Van Dyken-Rouen has spent much of her life talking about the physical and inner strength required to win six Olympic gold medals during her U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame swimming career.
On Wednesday, less than two weeks after a near-fatal accident, Van Dyken-Rouen spoke in public for the first time about the even greater challenge ahead in recovering as much as possible from paralysis in her legs caused by a severed spinal cord and broken ribs.
Van Dyken-Rouen, 41, spoke from a stretcher to the media at Scottsdale Air Center before being transported by air ambulance to Denver, where she will begin rehabilitation at Craig Hospital.
"I'm excited to get to this new part of my life," Van Dyken-Rouen said. "It's almost like a rebirth. I get to learn how to do everything all over again. I'm anxious to do that. It's time to start so I can get back to Arizona and start my new life, I guess."
Van Dyken-Rouen said before spinal surgery she was told of the extreme risk by her neurosurgeon Luis Manuel Tumialan and said farewell to her husband, Tom Rouen, in case she did not survive.
"He told Tom and I to say our goodbyes," she said. "There was a good chance I wasn't going to make it out of surgery. It was one of those things where I looked at my husband and basically said, 'I love you, goodbye, please continue on with your life.' I allow you to date, which was hard to say. To do that and then to be here now and to be with him is the most amazing thing."
After an all-terrain vehicle accident June 6 in Show Low, Van Dyken-Rouen was airlifted to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, where she underwent surgery June 7 and has remained until departing Wednesday for her native Colorado.
The accident occurred when Van Dyken-Rouen drove an ATV over a curb at the Torreon Golf Club into a 5- to 7-foot dropoff. Tom Rouen, a former Denver Broncos punter, said she was not breathing until he raised the back of her neck.
Van Dyken-Rouen maintained a mostly upbeat attitude during the press conference mixed with a few tears and emotional moments.
"Yes, this injury sucks and yes things hurt," she said, her voice cracking. "But I'm alive and I'm so thankful to be alive. That's why I can be positive about it. It helps get me through the day."