Dutch Paralympic athlete and Ironman Hawaii finisher Monique van der Vorst has regained the use of her legs after a crash whilst training earlier this year in what doctors are calling a medical miracle.
An operation at the age of 13 to correct an ankle problem left her without feeling in her legs and wheelchair bound. During her time in rehab she was introduced to handcycling and in 2000 she competed in her first handcycle race, which she won on her debut age just 15.
10 times National champion, 6 time European champion and 3 time World champion, an accident in Florida in 2008 whilst driving threatened to rule her out of the Beijing Paralympics with whiplash, but determination, focus (and a neck brace) saw her not only compete but win 2 silver medals and just missing out on the gold in the 40k road race by just 0.13 secs.
In 2009 in what she calls “her best performance to date” she completed the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in 11 hrs 10 mins and 13 secs and was the first handcycle athlete.
It was another accident in March whilst training in Spain, (when a cyclist rammed into her from behind), that Van der Vorst believes played a role in her recovery. The heavy impact sparked sensations in her legs.
Writing on her website she says
“2010 Started great with a win during the Miami and Melbourne Marathon. I was in my best shape ever, but I could never think 2010 would be such a thriller and end like this. Again I got involved in an accident, followed by a long period in the hospital. I got a lot spasm in my legs and suddenly I felt some twinklings in my paralysed legs. It was so strange because I hadn’t felt anything in my left leg for 12 years. Later I could move my legs a bit and from that moment I really tried everything to get my legs working again. I spend months in the hospital and rehab centre, but now I am walking again after being in a wheelchair for almost 13 years!”
All dreams of winning a Handcycling Gold Medal at the London 2012 Paralympics, and possibly the recently introduced ParaTriathlon.
Dreams of a gold medal in Rio 2016 are gone for the 26-year-old as she is now ineligible to compete.
“Competing was such a passion” she told The Associated Press, “It’s difficult because I need to find a new purpose in life. For me a new competition has started now. I don’t know where or when it’s going to finish but I will succeed and I will run”
Her goals for the future? “Walk all day, start running , finish a marathon, finish an Olympic triathlon, Ironman triathlon? It would be a dream for me to do the Ironman as an able athlete. “
More than a decade after having to change the way she lived her life, she’s going to have to do it all again. It won’t be easy but as she says “Don’t just dream it, Do it! If you don’t like it, change it, change your attitude, but don’t complain....”
This story was written by Danny Ward (our British Bureau Chief)