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Olympic gold medalist offers words of encouragement to ASU students

Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen seated in a wheelchair and holding a microphone while speaking to ASU College of Health Solutions students.
October 21, 2022

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

That was the message Amy Van Dyken-Rouen delivered to a group of Arizona State University College of Health Solutions students on Oct. 19 at the Engrained Cafe in downtown Phoenix.

Van Dyken-Rouen, the six-time Olympic swimming gold medalist, spoke to the assembled students as part of the College of Health Solutions 10th anniversary festivities. Van Dyken-Rouen was also the keynote speaker at the college’s Celebration of Health event later that evening.

Van Dyken-Rouen earned Olympic fame at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as well as the 2000 games in Sydney. She spoke of the challenges she faced in the pool and out as she became the first American female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympics in 1996 and overcame injuries to compete again in 2000.

She also spoke of the more substantial challenges she faced following a 2014 ATV accident in Show Low, Arizona, that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The severe spinal cord injury almost took her life, and she said she still endures daily pain as a result — but it didn’t take her enthusiasm for life.

Van Dyken-Rouen still competes at a world-class level as a CrossFit athlete. Since her accident, she’s also gone skydiving with Navy SEALs and regularly rock climbs.  

“Every day is an awesome day,” Van Dyken-Rouen said. “And I try to learn something about myself every day.”

Van Dyken-Rouen encouraged students to 'keep going'

She encouraged the students, many of whom will go on to work in the health care field, to take that same approach to their lives.

“There will be bad days and things are going to bring you down,” Van Dyken-Rouen said. “But keep going. What you’ll do for people like me will be great.

“When something knocks you down, learn from it.”

First-year College of Health Solutions student Adam Barwick drew inspiration from Van Dyken-Rouen’s words.

“It touched my heart and soul,” Barwick said. “I teared up. Despite her struggles, she keeps going. It made me want to pursue my dreams even more.”

Barwick aspires to be a sports dietitian and work with elite, Olympic-level athletes.

Gabriela Vega, a junior, said it was great to witness Van Dyken-Rouen’s energy and enthusiasm. Van Dyken-Rouen brought her gold medals and passed them around. The students took selfies with the medals and Van Dyken-Rouen, who stayed after her talk to answer one-on-one questions.

“There wasn’t a dull moment with her,” Vega said. “She knows how to keep everyone engaged. The most inspiring thing was how she doesn’t let negativity from others deter her plans for the future.”

As Van Dyken-Rouen wrapped up her speech, she encouraged the students to persevere no matter what challenges they might face and to do whatever they need to do to stay motivated.

“If someone tells you that you can’t do something, just say, ‘Who are you to tell me what I can’t do?’” she said.

Top photo: Six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen speaks to College of Health Solutions students as part of the college's 10th anniversary celebration on Oct. 19. Photo by Jon Mouer

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