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Olympic star Van Dyken severs spinal cord in crash


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken severed her spinal cord in an all-terrain vehicle accident over the weekend, and she told emergency workers she could not move her toes or feel anything touching her legs.

The 41-year-old swimmer, who goes by her married name Amy Van Dyken Rouen, was injured Friday. She was airlifted to a hospital and had surgery to stabilize her spine.

Hospital spokeswoman Alice Giedraitis didn't provide details Monday on Rouen's injuries. She said the swimmer was in good condition Monday afternoon.

A letter from the Van Dyken and Rouen families said she severed her spinal cord at the T11 vertebrae and that the broken vertebrae came within millimeters of rupturing her aorta.

"Amy awoke within hours of surgery acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self and has spent the last 24 hours entertaining her family and her medical staff in the ICU," the letter said.

Olympic Gold Medalist Amy Van Dyken Severs Spine In Accident

A report by the Show Low Police Department said the ATV that Rouen was driving hit a curb in a restaurant parking lot and sent her over a drop-off of between 5 and 7 feet.

Rouen was found lying on the ground next to the ATV. She was strapped to a backboard and airlifted to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center.

A witness said he saw Rouen launch over the curb and found her unresponsive when he arrived on the scene, the report said. Rouen was not wearing a helmet at the time.

Her husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, told police officers he had changed the throttle mechanism on the ATV from a thumb accelerator to a twist accelerator a few days before the accident, though wasn't sure if it was a factor in the accident.

He said his wife had not been drinking alcohol that evening.

"So hard hearing about (Amy) and her horrific accident," fellow American swimmer Missy Franklin said on Twitter. "I am praying continually for you and your family."

Rouen starred at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where she became the first U.S. female athlete to win four gold medals in a single games. She captured the 50-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly and also competed on the winning relay teams in the 400 free and 400 medley.

Four years later at Sydney, she added two more golds in the 400 free and 400 medley relays before retiring from competition.

In 2003, she was among numerous prominent athletes who testified before a grand jury investigating the BALCO doping scandal. Rouen never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during her career.

"The USA Swimming family is devastated to learn of Amy Van Dyken's unfortunate accident this weekend," the organization said in a statement. "We're happy to hear that she escaped and is now in great care. That she is already 'acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self' shows she's on a great path."

"Amy is a champion who has proven throughout her life that she is a fighter who takes on challenges and comes out on top. We know Amy will tackle her rehabilitation with vigor and be back on her feet sooner rather than later," it said.

Rouen grew up in Denver and became a world-class swimmer despite suffering from asthma as a child and into adulthood. She swam two years at the University of Arizona and transferred to Colorado State University, where she broke the U.S. record in the 50-yard freestyle during the 1994 NCAA championships.

She has worked in television and radio after retiring from competitive swimming, and currently lives in the Phoenix area with her husband.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Amy during this difficult time, but we know she'll fight her way back to health," Arizona swimming and diving coach Rick DeMont said in a statement. "Her drive and determination helped her become one of swimming's all-time greats and we know she'll use those same attributes as she sets out on the path to recovery."

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xxtwistdanglxx16 June 10 2014 at 8:06 AM

I feel bad for her and her family but I can't help but wonder why she was riding an ATV in a restaurant parking lot?

Flag Reply +14 rate up
4 replies
tmccull52 June 10 2014 at 7:06 AM

What a terrible accident, an unfortunate reminder that any one of us, regardless of health, wealth, or station in life, can be struck down in an instant. As unfortunate as this incident is, it should serve to remind us all to treasure the people that we care for, and all too often take for granted. Let's hope for the best for Amy Van Dyken Rouen, and her family.

Flag Reply +13 rate up
mari_victorius June 10 2014 at 11:06 AM

It's weird how a lot of people keep harping on her age, like she should have been at home in a rocking chair with her knitting. Someone said a 41 year old riding an atv in a parking lot is a "recipe for disaster". LMAO By that logic, then so is walking down a tree-lined street on a fine spring day. Because one of those suckers might fall on your head.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
1 reply
BARRY AND KATHY mari_victorius June 10 2014 at 8:21 PM

Idiots who let their kids drive these things drive me crazy.
She's an adult and can do stupid things if she wants but there are few vehicles more dangerous than these things and to noit have a helmet on??
I know, you will say a helmet won't keep her from fracturing her back but head injuries are far more likely.
I keep seeing kids who aren't even teen-agers riding them like maniaacs up and down my gravel road and when they bust themselves up or kill themselves, the parents will be heartbroken and expect me to say ''how unfortunate''.
What's unfortunate is the stupidity of the parents.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
jijjhnsn June 10 2014 at 7:12 AM

Dangerous act for a 41 year old. No helmet, driving/riding in a parking lot, all recipe for disaster.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
10 replies
chandler2220 June 10 2014 at 10:59 AM

I feel bad for her and her family, but I live near the Oregon Dunes Recreational Area and people just don't realize just how dangerous ATV's are, people die out there every summer.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
Estelle June 10 2014 at 9:14 AM

"Amy awoke within hours of surgery acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self and has spent the last 24 hours entertaining her family and her medical staff in the ICU," the letter said.

IF she did awake this way from her surgery, no one has TOLD her how serious of an injury this is yet. Statement is VERY PREMATURE AND RIDICULOUS.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
6 replies
arzate June 10 2014 at 8:19 AM

Unfamiliarity with the throttle system from a thumb operated one to a twist handlebar type probably caused the accident. The husband changed it a few days earlier. Did she know it?
Did she slowly practice with it to get used to it? Even as one steers or leans back can
cause unintentional application of throttle and very rapid uncontrolled acceleration. and then
loss of control.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
5 replies
Donna June 10 2014 at 1:37 PM

Wishing her the best. What a great person she is. Thoughts and prayers for her and her family...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
coreelectric June 10 2014 at 1:40 PM

That is HORRIBLE!!!! I'm soooo sorry for her.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
drwoodrowa coreelectric June 10 2014 at 10:19 PM

Company called INVIVO Theraputics --- has a new and novel treatment for this type of injury. There is a clinical study ongoing ---she should check into it soon!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
pftaylor June 10 2014 at 11:02 AM

GOD BLESS HER.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
BARRY AND KATHY pftaylor June 10 2014 at 8:22 PM

God obviously wasn't paying attention when she crashed so I'm glad you pointed it out to him. Now she will heal with no problem. Unless God is still not paying attention.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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