Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen severs spine in ATV accident

Amy Van Dyken Rouen celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women's 50-meter freestyle at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Amy Van Dyken Rouen celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women’s 50-meter freestyle at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
(David Longstreath / Associated Press)

Swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen, who won six gold medals during her Olympic career, suffered a severed spine in an all-terrain vehicle accident Friday in Show Low, Ariz.

A letter from the Van Dyken and Rouen families said she severed her spinal cord at the T11 vertebrae and that the broken vertebrae came within millimeters of rupturing her aorta.


For the Record


June 10, 9:35 a.m.: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect age for Amy Van Dyken Rouen and said the accident occurred in Scottsdale.


Hospital spokeswoman Alice Giedraitis said Rouen, 41, was in good condition and will be undergoing surgery this week.

A police report said the ATV that Rouen was driving hit a curb, sending Rouen down an embankment. Rouen, who was not wearing a helmet, could not move her legs and was taken to a hospital.

Her husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, told the Denver Post that “after surgery, she needs about three days before she is out of the woods. She is strong and has a great attitude.”

He also discussed the aftermath of the accident and what he found after racing to her side.

“She wasn’t breathing,” he said. “I raised up the back of her neck with my hand, she started gasping for air.”


Rouen became the first U.S. female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Games when she won the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly and also was a member of the winning relay teams in the 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley at the 1996 Atlantic Games.

“The USA Swimming family is devastated to learn of Amy Van Dyken’s unfortunate accident this weekend,” the organization said in a statement. “We’re happy to hear that she escaped and is now in great care. That she is already ‘acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self’ shows she’s on a great path.”

“Amy is a champion who has proven throughout her life that she is a fighter who takes on challenges and comes out on top. We know Amy will tackle her rehabilitation with vigor and be back on her feet sooner rather than later,” it said.

Rouen has remained in good spirits and has been tweeting from her hospital bed, including tweeting a drawing her nephew and niece gave her, and also tweeting: “Never get us all together anymore. This is amazing. I have the best family.”