Amy Van Dyken Rouen, six-time Olympic gold medalist, severed her spine in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) accident near her Scottsdale, AZ home on Friday.
Van Dyken, 41, and husband Tom Rouen were coming home from dinner Friday night when the ATV she was driving hit a curb in a restaurant parking lot and tumbled down a five- to seven-foot embankment.
Tom Rouen, a former punter for the Denver Broncos, said he raced to his wife's aid on his motorcycle.
"She wasn't breathing," Rouen said. "I raised up the back of her neck with my hand, she started gasping for air."
Van Dyken was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Tom Rouen said she had not been drinking alcohol that evening. He told police that he had recently changed the throttle mechanism on the ATV Van Dyken was driving from a thumb accelerator to a twist accelerator. It is currently not clear if that was a factor in the accident.
Van Dyken was transported by helicopter to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center where she underwent surgery to repair her spine.
Tom Rouen said the first three days following surgery were critical, but she "is strong and has a great attitude."
Van Dyken's family released a statement to Swimming World:
"Amy's spinal cord was completely severed at the T11 vertebrae, but, miraculously, a broken vertebrae stopped within millimeters of rupturing her aorta, and she did not suffer any head trauma. Amy awoke within hours of surgery acting like her typical spunky, boisterous, ebullient self and has spent the last 24 hours entertaining her family and her medical staff in the ICU. She has made at least one male nurse blush. Amy's attitude has been overwhelmingly positive and optimistic. She has been far more of a comfort to us than we have been to her."
So hard hearing about @amyvandyken and her horrific accident. I am praying continually for you and your family.
— Missy Franklin (@FranklinMissy) June 10, 2014
Missy Franklin, 19, is a four-time Olympic gold medalist who has met Van Dyken several times over the past few years. The two swimmers, also fellow native Coloradans, bonded and became friends.
"I think everyone is just shocked by it," Franklin said Monday. "My mom told me, and I just immediately started praying for her and her family. Hearing that she's in ICU is obviously very scary. ... I know the entire swimming community is thinking about her and praying for her."
At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Van Dyken became the first US woman to win four gold medals at one Olympics. She followed that up with two Olympic relay gold medals in 2000 at the Sydney Summer Olympics.
Image via Instagram, Amy Van Dyken