I grew up in Arizona, but I spent every summer with my grandparents in northern Wyoming, and from 1988 to 2004, the tradition was for us to binge-watch every moment of the summer Olympics. 1996 was my favorite (mostly because I had a massive crush on gymnast Dominique Moceanu), and it was a bonus that the games were located in the good ‘ol USA. The Red, White and Blue dominated- accumulating over 100 medals in a show of brilliant athletic superiority. Four of those medals belonged to that summer’s most dominant athlete, swimmer Amy Van Dyken. No woman had ever collected four gold medals in one Olympics before. Moreover, this was a woman who grew up suffering from severe asthma. My sister was seven at the time, and her asthma kept her home from school at least one day a week- it was incredible to imagine someone overcoming that sort of handicap to the point of being one of the world’s most famous athletes.
A few days ago, Amy Van Dyken-Rouen had an ATV accident right here in Arizona, severing her spinal cord. When I read the news I felt the same way I imagine many in the generation before me felt when they heard about Christopher Reeve’s paralyzation. While Reeve’s played Superman in movies, Van Dyken-Rouen always seems to me like a real-life superhero. I couldn’t imagine how she must be struggling with the potential limitations this injury would cause her. That’s when I saw this tweet:
— Amy Van Dyken-Rouen (@amyvandyken) June 11, 2014
Unbelievable. Who has a glass-still-full attitude in the wake of severing their spinal cord? Moreover- who has a sense of humor about it? I always thought Van Dyken-Rouen’s shining moments as a public figure took place on the world’s stage nearly two decades ago, but something tells me that her biggest moments of inspiring perseverance and optimism in others still lies ahead. In a world that needs all the positivity its citizens can muster, I’m going to make sure my kids are paying attention to her example.