It's not easy winning one Olympic gold medal — and Colorado native Amy Van Dyken-Rouen won six during her swimming career.
B.J. Bedford Miller, one of her teammates from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, said anytime she swam on a relay with Van Dyken-Rouen, she knew they would win.
"She digs deep to overcome whatever is in front of her, and she's more stubborn than almost anyone I've ever met," Bedford Miller said. "When faced with challenges, she will fight tooth and nail to overcome them. That's just who she is."
A few days after Van Dyken-Rouen severed her spinal cord Friday in Arizona, she let the world know through social media that she still has the winning spirit despite probably facing paralysis in her legs.
On Instagram and Twitter on Tuesday morning, Van Dyken-Rouen sent out positive updates from the Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center in Arizona. She posted an Instagram photo from the hospital in which she wrote: "Doing great today. My room is the most decorated in ICU. Thx for ur thoughts & prayers!"
The photo, a selfie that revealed two scratches on her face, also showed a room filled with balloons and stuffed animals.
Van Dyken-Rouen also retweeted a picture from Instagram that Hardbody News took of the front page of The Denver Post with the story on her accident and her fight to recover. Van Dyken-Rouen replied back: "Thanks, Hardbody News!"
She later tweeted a photo of her sitting up in her hospital bed for the first time, with the help of aides and a back brace. "Making progress," she wrote. "First day I sat up. Thank you for all thoughts and prayers."
Van Dyken-Rouen severed her spinal cord in an all-terrain vehicle accident near her Arizona home. The Van Dyken and Rouen families released a statement Monday that said, "Amy's spinal cord was completely severed at the T-11 vertebra , but, miraculously, a broken vertebra stopped within millimeters of rupturing her aorta."
Hospital spokeswoman Alice Giedraitis said Tuesday that Van Dyken-Rouen is in good condition and that she and her family asked for privacy as she recovers.
Van Dyken-Rouen's father, Don, said she was in good spirits. The Colorado resident returned home Monday night, but said that Van Dyken-Rouen's husband, Tom Rouen, and her sister, brother and mother are still with her at the hospital.
John Mattos, her former swim coach at Colorado State University, has seen Van Dyken-Rouen's competitiveness firsthand. He was contacted Sunday by Van Dyken-Rouen's younger sister, Katie, who filled him in on the news after he saw an Instagram photo Van Dyken-Rouen took from the hospital.
Mattos said he has not been in contact with Van Dyken-Rouen directly, but he said the bigger the challenge, the higher Van Dyken-Rouen rises.
"It certainly leaves you with a hollowness in your heart and a hollowness in your stomach," Mattos said. "Knowing Amy as I do, there isn't anyone out there and no one who is tougher than that young woman. Any obstacle becomes a challenge."
Mattos said he was waiting to hear how Van Dyken-Rouen's recovery is going before he decides whether to fly to Arizona.
Another person who knows Van Dyken-Rouen's tenacity is Dave Denniston. The Arapahoe High School graduate, an NCAA swimming champion at Auburn, can empathize with what she is going through. In 2005, Denniston broke his back while sledding in Wyoming. He competed in the 2008 Paralympics and now coaches Paralympics swimmers.
Denniston, who almost made the Olympic team in 2004, said Van Dyken-Rouen is driven.
"She's fortunate because for a good portion of her life, she chose to put herself through a lot of pain to pursue her Olympic medals," Denniston said. "I trained with her during some of that pain. When you're an athlete that chooses pain on a daily basis, dealing with the forced pain of a spinal-cord injury, it's kind of secondary."
Van Dyken-Rouen graduated from Cherry Creek High School in 1991 and swam at Colorado State University after transferring from the University of Arizona.
Staff writer John Meyer contributed to this report.
Alexandria Valdez: 303-954-1297, firstname.lastname@example.org