SCOTTSDALE — Not long after Amy Van Dyken-Rouen had surgery for a life-threatening spine injury, while she still wasn’t completely out of danger, her husband placed a cellphone in her hands.
The decorated Olympic swimmer had always enjoyed sharing her life and thoughts on social media, so Tom Rouen figured it might do her some good when she awoke.
It worked more than he could have imagined, providing Amy a therapeutic tool as she makes the transition from elite athlete to possibly spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
Before the advent of social media, information on athletes had to be disseminated mostly through agents and teams. Now, athletes can provide updates freely and instantaneously .
Van Dyken-Rouen has taken it to a new, open-book level. The six-time Olympic gold medalist and former Arizona Wildcats swimmer was involved in an all-terrain vehicle accident on June 6, severing her spine and leaving her with no feeling in her legs.
A day after surgery, Van Dyken-Rouen posted photos on Instagram of her family in the hospital room and a drawing from her niece and nephew.
The next day, she posted a selfie in her hospital bed and later put up a shot of her sitting up for the first time and images of her X-rays.
On Friday, Van Dyken-Rouen discussed her injury in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show. “It’s a setback; that’s all it is,” she told “Today.” “And then we’re gonna rock and roll.”
The striking part about Van Dyken-Rouen’s posts are they’re just as open, positive and sarcastic as before her injury:
- Just thinking out loud..Now I will get really good seats at @dbacks and other favorite sports teams. #awesome #bringMyOwnChair #goodParking2
- Was in MRI until 4:00am today (started at 11:30pm) did whole spine and brain, and so far, so good. Yes, I have a brain! LOL #BabySteps
- Happy Friday! No more surgeries for this girl, so I celebrate with Froot Loops... SHHH, don’t tell!.
- Well this is about a week late for me (with a photo of a TV story about national ATV safety week).
“She’s doing it in such a positive and upbeat way, it’s almost breathtaking how inspiring it is,” said William Ward, professor of social media at Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
“I don’t know if most people are that upbeat on any given day much less after going through something that traumatic.”