Injured Olympic swimmer makes first public appearance

(CNN) - Paralyzed in an ATV crash less than two weeks ago, Olympic gold-medal winning swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen made her first public appearance about life after her accident.

Six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen was smiling and cracking jokes as she boarded a plane from Arizona to a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado.

In her first public appearance since her injury, she opened up about her experience and looks at everything with a positive attitude.

"I'm excited to get to this new part of my life. It's almost like a rebirth. I get to learn how to do everything all over again and I'm anxious to do that."

Van Dyken-Rouen severed her spinal cord in the accident. An injury so severe that she and her husband, former NFL punter Tom Rouen were told to say their good-byes as she was rushed into emergency surgery.

"There was a good chance I wasn't going to make it out of surgery," she said. "I looked at my husband and basically said, 'I love you, goodbye, please continue on with your life.' To do that and then to be here now, and to be with him, is the most amazing thing."

Paralyzed from the waist down, she copes daily with grueling pain and physical therapy, but she's not complaining.

"Yes this injury sucks, and yes things hurt, but I'm alive and I'm so thankful to be alive and that's why I can be positive about it. It helps get me through the pain."

The champion swimmer became the first American woman to win four gold medals at one Olympics, the 1996 games in Atlanta, and won two more gold medals in Sydney in 2000. She was inducted into the U.S. Olympic hall of fame eight years later.

Calling this injury the, "toughest competition of her life," she says through her good days and bad, it's been the support from family, friends and social media that's kept her going.

"I can definitely feel the thoughts and prayers, so please keep them coming. This is just the beginning."

She remains positive about her recovery -- even if it means she'll never walk again.

"I'm going to get the best wheelchair ever," she said. "I am going to make it so cool. I'm gonna do my hair to match my chair, and I'm going to rock it out."

Van Dyken-Rouen said she's already started physical therapy and, because of her fitness level, she's been able to do things right now that a lot of patients can't do until weeks and months into therapy.

She will be near her own family as well as her husband's family, which her surgeon said is a key part of recovery and has played a huge part already.

He said she has a lot of things playing in her favor to give her the best chance in recovery -- her training as an athlete, her health and her fortitude.


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