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Olympic champ swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen severs spine

Jun 9, 2014, 2:39 PM EDT

Six-time Olympic champion swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen severed her spine in an all-terrain vehicle accident Friday and underwent surgery Saturday, according to Swimming World.

“She wasn’t breathing,” said her husband, former NFL punter Tom Rouen, who raced to her aid, according to the Denver Post. “I raised up the back of her neck with my hand, she started gasping for air.”

Swimming World obtained a letter from the Van Dyken and Rouen families:

Dear Friends and Family,

On Friday night our sister, daughter, and wife, Amy Van Dyken Rouen, was emergency airlifted to Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center after an ATV accident in Show Low, AZ. Her husband, Tom, was with her at the time of the accident and bravely kept her stable until the helicopter arrived. An amazing team of doctors performed emergency surgery to repair her spine and stabilize her. 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.

Amy has a long, trying road ahead of her, but as anyone who knows her can attest, her unparalleled mental strength and determination will propel her. She is a fighter. Amy has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles before, winning 6 Olympic gold medals and becoming one of the greatest female athletes of her generation despite battling lifelong chronic asthma. Now this is her new challenge, her new battle. With the unconditional love and support of her friends, family and fans, Amy welcomes the challenges she will face as she opens this new chapter of her life.

Please keep Amy in your thoughts and prayers.

With love,

The Van Dyken and Rouen families

The Arizona Republic reported these details from a police report:

Show Low police officers, according to their report, were dispatched to the Torreon Golf Club at 7:55 p.m. Friday after receiving a 911 call about Rouen’s accident.

Rouen was conscious but having trouble breathing and without feeling in her legs. A witness saw Rouen driving a green ATV through a parking lot and “launch over” a curb. She was not wearing a helmet. The witness said he ran to Rouen, found her unresponsive and called 911.

Police spoke with Tom Rouen, who said he recently switched the throttle mechanism on the ATV from a thumb accelerator to a twist accelerator and did not know if that was a factor in the accident. The police found no evidence of alcohol being a factor in the accident, and no charges were filed.

Rouen was the most decorated woman at the 1996 Olympics, winning four medals, all gold.

She was the first U.S. woman to win four gold medals at a single Games.

Rouen won two more relay golds at the 2000 Olympics to finish her career with six medals, all gold.

Never get us all together anymore. This is amazing. I have the best family.

A photo posted by Amy Van Dyken (@amyvandyken) on

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