Former Olympian Paralyzed In Accident Has Approached Her Recovery Like A Total Boss

Do not underestimate Amy Van Dyken.

In 1996, swimmer Amy Van Dyken was preparing to compete in her first Olympic Games. Though fiercely competitive by nature, she wasn't expected to emerge as a big star -- except she did, becoming the first U.S. woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympics. In the 2000 Games, Van Dyken added two more golds to her collection. She was dominating her sport.

Then, in June 2014, Van Dyken's spirited nature and active lifestyle were tested when a near-fatal ATV accident left her paralyzed from the waist down.

In the years since the accident, Van Dyken has channeled all of her energy into her recovery, telling "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" how her experience as an athlete has helped her endure.

"Being an Olympian ... every single day was a grind. Every single day, you pushed your body to the limits to see what it could do, you pushed your mind to the limits every single day," she says. "That gave me the drive that I have now." 

I was only supposed to win one bronze medal in the Games. I walked away with six gold medals. So don't tell me what to do.

That drive kicked into gear almost immediately, Van Dyken adds.

"I stated first thing that my goal was to walk. Everyone thought that I was absolutely crazy," she says. "But guess what? I was only supposed to win one bronze medal in the Games. I walked away with six gold medals. So don't tell me what to do."

With the help of braces, a walker and the staff at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Van Dyken has indeed been walking. (You can see her take steps in the above video.) It's been a challenging recovery process, but the former Olympian doesn't waste much time feeling sorry for herself. 

"I've never been angry that I'm like this. I've never looked back and said... 'What if?' Because 'what if' didn't happen. This happened," Van Dyken says. "This happened for a reason."


That doesn't mean she doesn't have her moments.

"Sure, there are days when I wake up and I'm in so much pain, I can't even handle it. And there are days when it is so hard to get in and out of this chair that it's just ridiculous. And there are days when I am sad," Van Dyken says. "I take that moment, I look at it, I try to learn from it and then move on."

"My hopes and dreams for the future are to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Personally, I [want to] get up and walk. I want to become a rock climber. I want to start getting competitive in another sport -- rowing, kayaking, who knows?" she says. "That's what I see for the future: rocking and rolling."

Another moving Olympic story:



Vintage Photos From 1896 Olympic Games