By Keith Coffman
ENGLEWOOD Colo. (Reuters) – Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken said she was excited to be starting her new life on Wednesday as she arrived partially paralyzed at a hospital near her hometown of Denver for specialist treatment after severing her spine in an all-terrain vehicle accident.
Van Dyken, 41, whose six gold medals make her one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers of all time, has put a particularly brave face on her recovery since the accident, chatting warmly with well-wishers on social media and posting photos of her smiling and waving.
The crash happened on June 6 in Arizona and she had six hours of surgery the next day at a hospital in Scottsdale. On Wednesday she was transferred to the Craig Hospital in Englewood, a suburb of Denver where she grew up and where much of her family lives.
“I’m doing alright. Rocking and rolling!” Van Dyken told reporters as she was wheeled from an ambulance into the facility, which specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries.
“I’m feeling great. We’ve got the pain under control. I’m excited to start my new life.”
Van Dyken says she has no feeling from the waist down and does not know whether it will return.
Van Dyken won six gold medals at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta and the 2000 Games in Sydney, winning in relay races, the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly. In recent years she had been a sports radio talk show hostess.
Before flying from Scottsdale to Denver, Van Dyken said her neurosurgeon had advised her and her husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, to say goodbye to each other because of the risks involved.
“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,'” Van Dyken told reporters from a stretcher.
“I’m so thankful to be alive,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion at times.
Luis Manuel Tumialan, the neurosurgeon who operated on her, said Van Dyken would benefit from having so many family members and friends around her in her Colorado hometown.
“That’s her family nucleus. I can’t put that in a bottle,” Tumialan told reporters.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)