Olympian Amy Van Dyken-Rouen on skiing after paralysis: ‘This to me is freedom’

Olympic swimming gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen has got herself a new ride: An adaptive ski that allows the paralyzed athlete to charge downhill.

“I had dreams about this!” she told TODAY while gliding downhill on the slopes of Colorado’s Breckenridge Education Center.

Taking on the sport marks another milestone for Van Dyken-Rouen, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a 2014 ATV accident severed her spine.

Despite her injuries, she emerged from the accident, and numerous surgeries, with the same spirit that helped her earn six Olympic gold medals in Atlanta and Sydney. She’s surpassed the expectations of doctors, feeling reflexes in her knees and ankles and even walking with the help of an exo-skeleton.

Now, she’s taken on a new challenge: downhill skiing.

“It’s like freedom. A lot of people who are injured say that getting in the swimming pool is liberating and free for them. For me, that’s where I feel the most paralyzed,” she said.

“This to me is freedom.”

Amy’s husband, Tom Rouen, said skiing allows his wife to help fulfill the competitive fire that continues to burn inside of her.

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Amy Van Dyken-Rouen said she’s had dreams about downhill skiing.

“From the day she woke up in surgery, I just could never understand how happy she was, and so excited about life,” he said. “That’s just so infectious.”

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Van Dyken-Rouen has not only served as an inspiration in her own recovery, but to others through Amy’s Army, the foundation she and her husband created to help others with spinal cord injuries.

She hopes to show by example that even a severed spine can’t take away the thrill of speeding downhill. She said it’s a feeling she’s chased ever since her accident.

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The Olympic swimming champion said she no longer finds the pool liberating. Instead, “this to me is freedom.”

“You know, when they say, ‘You’ll never be able?’ No. That’s again a hurdle or a wall that you’re going to either go over or around or break under it or do whatever to get through it,” she said.

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“For people who are wondering if they can, stop wondering and get out there and do it,” she said. “The scariest part is getting in here and going on that first lift. And after that, it’s so much fun. Please just do it, you know?”