Amy Van Dyken is a former world-record competitive swimmer, six-time Olympic champion and national radio sports talk show co-host. She won four of her gold medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics, making her the first American woman to accomplish such a feat. She was also the most successful athlete at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Recently Amy was in a severe all-terrain vehicle accident that severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. It was an honor to sit down with this great champion. I came away blessed because of her incredible faith, positive outlook and relentless drive to help others through her difficult challenge.
Q: What is it like to be an Olympic champion?
A: It was an amazing experience to represent our country. To be able to say that I’m an Olympic champion for my country is so cool.
Q: You recently suffered a potentially life-ending accident. What happened?
A: Yes, I was in an ATV accident 10 months ago. My husband found me, and I wasn’t breathing. It took about four minutes to get me to breathe, and then I went to the hospital. The doctor said, “One of your vertebrae is right up against your aorta.” They said to say goodbye to my husband, and I did.
I know how to overcome obstacles, and I know how my mind works. I know that my mind can tell my body to do just about anything. You can say I walked through hell with a smile on my face, so maybe your Monday morning meeting isn’t really as bad as you think it is. It gives you perspective.
Q: As difficult as this has been, what have you taken from this challenge?
A: It’s been amazing. I’m an ambassador for the Reed Foundation. They are looking for a cure for spinal cord injuries. I’m also working with Cure Paralysis Now that is trying to do the same thing.
I was sitting in a hospital in Colorado with a bunch of paraplegics and quadriplegics. They tell you that you’re never going to walk again, and you’re going to sit in the chair for the rest your life and not move or feel anything.
Just to take a shower you need a special chair that costs $2,500 and insurance may not pay for it. There’s a statistic out there that says when you’re newly injured, that first year could cost up to $1 million in medical bills alone, that you will have to personally take care of.
Q: You have stepped in to help find a solution. Tell us about it.
A: We formed the Amy Van Dyken Foundation. An arm of our work is called “Amy’s Army.” What we do is provide necessary medical equipment for people with spinal cord injuries who can’t afford it. I feel this is my calling. All of this happened to me for a reason.
Q: As Christians, we wonder how people without God go through tragedy like this. Obviously, your accident has given you a real heart for suffering people.
A: You have to smile about it; every day is a blessing. You have to look at life like you do not know what is around the corner. Sometimes we don’t tell our loved ones that we love them. We think, “Oh, I will tell them later.” Tell them now, because we never know what could happen. This has really given me the freedom to tell my loved ones how I feel.
Amy Van Dyken, seen here upon her release from the hospital after her accident, said it has been a tough battle but her faith and family have helped.
Q: You have a famous husband, Tom Rouen, who punts for the Denver Broncos. How has he responded to your injury?
A: Tom has been such a big help through this challenge. He is there every single day as a shoulder to cry on. He’s there to help me when I fall out of my chair. He’s absolutely amazing, and you talk about inspiration – he helps me wake up every day.
Q: Tell me what faith, family and sports means to you?
A: Faith, family is sports, right? I mean it is the Olympics. You have to have faith, because God gave you the gift to do what you’re doing. You need family to help you get where you’re going; you need faith, also.
When I tell people I saw the light, they kind of start shaking. “Oh, she didn’t say that, right?” But on your show, Sold Out, you can be open, and talk about these things. There are so many negative stories out there, and we don’t hear [enough] about the good stories. Let’s focus on some of the positives that go on.
Q: Tell me a personal story from the Olympics that no one has heard.
A: Amanda Beard was a multiple Olympic gold-medal swimmer. She was 14 years old at the time that we were getting ready to do a relay. Before getting ready to go, she takes me aside and says, “Amy I’ve never done a relay.” I’m like, “You’re kidding me, right?” She said, “No I don’t know what to do.” So I said, OK, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to stand when it’s your turn, and I’ll scream “GO!” Even if it doesn’t look like you’re supposed to go, GO!
So the swimmers are coming in, I scream “Go!” We win the gold medal and the media goes nuts. They say, “Amy, you were so supportive of Amanda and cheering her on.” I said, “Yes, we love each other.” What was so funny is they did not know that I was literally telling her to go.
Q: Amy Van Dyken, you’re a six-time Olympic gold medalist. What do you want to do moving forward?
A: Right now I want to walk again. I would like to help people to live the best life they can live, letting them know that their day isn’t as bad as they thought it was, and help them to live their life to the fullest.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roman Gabriel is an evangelist and motivational speaker. Hear his Sold Out Sports Talk Radio program on American Family Radio in 200 cities nationally or streaming live at afr.net. Visit soldouttv.com; Facebook: Roman Gabriel III; connect on Twitter: @romangabriel3rd. Contact at (910) 431-6483 or email: [email protected].)