Six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken Rouen was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Arizona on Friday that severed her spine.
The champion swimmer was airlifted to Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center after the ATV she was driving hit a curb in a parking lot and threw her down a drop-off that was thought to be between 5 to 7 feet. She reportedly told paramedics that she couldn’t move her toes or feel anything touching her legs. Van Dyken Rouen’s husband — former Denver Broncos player Tom Rouen — was with her at the time of the accident and told authorities that his wife hadn’t been drinking.
According to the Associated Press, a letter from the Van Dyken and Rouen families said that the 46-year-old swimmer had severed her spinal cord at the T11 vertebrae and that the broken vertebrae had come within millimeters of piercing her aorta.
Van Dyken Rouen made her name at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where she became the first U.S. female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympic Games. (She snagged the top prize in the 50-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly events and was part of the winning relay teams in the 400 free and 400 medley.) Four years later in Sydney, Van Dyken Rouen won two more gold medals when she competed with the winning U.S. relay teams for the 400 free and 400 medley.
“The USA Swimming family is devastated to learn of Amy Van Dyken’s unfortunate accident this weekend,” said the national governing body for competitive swimming in a statement on their website. “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.”
Despite the severity of the accident, Van Dyken Rouen has been posting photos to social media from her hospital bed, including a snap of artwork made by her niece and nephew, along with the hashtag #hostpitalsSuck.