June 18, 2014 at 2:49 PM ET
Despite an all-terrain vehicle accident that severed her spinal cord, Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen said Wednesday that it’s been easy to stay positive through her painful recovery process because “I’m so thankful to be alive.”
The six-time gold medalist said she doesn’t remember much from the June 6 accident, in which she said her husband found her “face down and not breathing.” But she does remember her doctor informing them both that she may not survive the emergency surgery she underwent immediately afterward.
"We said our goodbyes. And to do that, and then to be here now and to be with him is the most amazing thing,” she said Wednesday from an ambulance stretcher during a news conference, her first public appearance since the accident.
“So yes, this injury sucks and yes, things hurt, but I’m alive,” she said, her voice starting to break down. "And I’m so thankful to be alive and so that’s why I can be positive about it. It helps get me through the pain.”
Earlier, Van Dyken-Rouen asked TODAY viewers through a video to keep sending their “positive vibes.” Sitting in a hospital bed, wearing a hospital gown and a black baseball cap, she gave a wave with her left arm as she greeted TODAY anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie in the 34-second video.
“I just want to thank you guys and everyone who watches the TODAY Show for all of your support, all of your prayers and your positive vibes. It’s definitely helping,” she said cheerfully, tapping her hands together at times.
Van Dyken-Rouen held her news conference hours later, shortly before she was airlifted from a Scottsdale, Arizona hospital to one in Denver, Colorado that specializes exclusively in the rehabilitation and research of patients with spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.
"I'm actually feeling really good," she said right before taking off, crediting her medical team for keeping her pain under control.
"I’m excited to get to this new part of my life. It’s almost like a rebirth, a little bit," she said. "I get to learn how to do everything all over again, and I’m anxious to do that. It's time to start so I can get back to Arizona and continue my life. Start my new life."
Van Dyken-Rouen, 41, has been active on both her Instagram and Twitter accounts since her accident. She even shared a photo of the surgical incision on her back on Tuesday “for those who have been asking,” she noted in the caption.
“Healing fast! #PrayersAreWorking,” she said in the photo.
Van Dyken-Rouen, who is married to former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, won four gold medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She won another two gold medals at the Sydney games in 2000.