“You’ll never walk again” the doctor said. No one expected a miracle. Until the age of 13, when she suffered nerve damage during a routine operation, Monique van der Vorst was a regular girl who grew up in the Netherlands. Since then, she had been paralyzed from the waist down, leaving her wheel-chair bound. Van der Vorst, however, would not let that discourage her, becoming an accomplished athlete in the years to come. She won two silver medals in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, and in 2009 was the first handcycle athlete to win the Ironman World Championship, in Hawaii. But the craziest part of this story is that a freak accident changed her life again, and she couldn’t be more pleased about it.
Last year, while training for the upcoming 2012 Paralympics in London, she was hit by an irresponsibly speeding bicyclist, in an accident that brought her back to a hospital bed. While recovering, van der Vorst’s feet began to feel something that surprised her – …well, anything is surprising for a paraplegic. A faint tingling sensation; nerves reacting for the first time in over a decade. Doctors could not explain it. This is usually the kind of stuff that’s only on TV, not in real life.
For the next few months, she would go through the rehabilitation that would train her to do the most rudamentary of mobility activities. Rehabilitation would start from toe-wiggling and bending legs, to supporting her own weight standing up. Her brain must have relearned the old neural connections involved in things like walking, and she now has a fully-functioning upper and lower body.
This essentially ends her paralympian career, which is one that boasted the distinction of the “2009 Dutch disabled athlete of the year.” But despite changing her routine and the circle of people she trains with, she is still going on as an athlete. Now, she has her sites on the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Why This is an Amazing Story
Standing up straight, she says, and seeing people at eye level – something we surely take for granted – makes her see the world from a new perspective. But hopefully this story does more for people than just help us appreciate the little things that we never acknlowedge or even notice. The real beauty of this story, insofar as I can see it, is that she did the right things at every turn.
She should be an inspiration to anyone who believes that good things happen to those who work hard. Of course, I’m not saying that her training caused her legs to start working again, and we’ll never know if she would ever walk again without having been in that accident. But what’s clear is that she did not let her disability ever stop her. And despite how van der Vorst is finished with her paralympic career, she’s going onto participate against athletes who have never lost the use of their limbs. This is valiant to say the least, and she certainly deserves a great deal of respect.
Obviously luck has a lot to do with what happens in the world – far more than people give credit for. For example, no one could have predicted such a miraculous recovery from such a spontaneous accident. However, it seems that the harder you work, the luckier you become. And van der Vorst sure is lucky.