A Dutch Paralympian who miraculously regained the use of her legs following a car accident tells Channel 4 News she is “excited and honoured” to have the opportunity to aim for the Olympics.
Twenty-seven year-old Monique van der Vorst was somewhat understated when she said: “My life has been full of challenges. I was disabled at age 13, but I never gave up.”
Paralysed in one leg at the age of 13, she went on to become one of the world’s best hand cyclists, taking the world championship title three times.
Then, after a crash in 2008 left her completely paralysed, she went on to win two silver medals at the Beijing Paralympic Games.
In March last year, while in training for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, she was involved in another roadside crash in Majorca, this time involving another cyclist. But her recovery from this setback was to lead to perhaps her greatest victory – she learned to walk again.
Her body went into a spasm and after a lengthy rehabilitation programme she started feeling tingling sensations in her legs. On November 2010, she suddenly – and seemingly miraculously – started to walk again.
The sudden change of standing after being in a wheelchair is indescribable. Monique van der Vorst
She said: “The sudden change of standing after being in a wheelchair is indescribable because suddenly the whole world has a different perspective.
“It is really nice walking next to someone and being able to look straight into that person’s eyes.”
Now her story has taken another remarkable turn after the Dutch elite cycling team, Rabobank, signed her for their squad. Team spokesman Luuc Eisenga said her story seemed “like a miracle”.
He said: “When we met Monique, we saw an athlete with incredible willpower and the right mentality for sport. She has a really good level in cycling and we believe we can help her develop as a professional bike rider.”
Asked if she might make it to the Olympics, he said: “In sport, everything is possible.”
And Monique van der Vorst herself said that while she can’t explain her miracle recovery, she is an “athlete in body and soul.”
She told Channel 4 News she was “totally excited and honoured” to be included in the elite team: “My dream is to be an athlete and now I’m back to where I belong.”
Experts said there was no obvious reason for Ms van der Vorst’s recovery, although one theory is that the damaged spinal column from the first crash was pushed back into shape during the second accident.
Although most people with spinal cord injuries do see some improvement, it is minimal. Any improvement is gradual and nowhere near as sudden as it was in Ms van der Vorst’s case.