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The bad news is her athletic career's over, the good news is...

timv's picture

Dutch Paralympic medalist Monique van der Vorst can walk again. This year she regained the use of her legs after 13 years of being wheelchair bound, the result of an injury suffered as a teenage field hockey player and complications from a subsequent surgical procedure gone wrong.

In June, she says, she started to feel a tingling sensation in her left foot. Her legs were still thin from years of inaction, but before long she could feel them both. At first she told only her doctor, not even her parents.

“There is no way you can realize this. To feel something in your legs, where you felt nothing before,” she said.

Standing up was the next step. She used her powerful arms to hoist herself between tables and dangled her feet to the ground, gradually increasing the pressure, forcing herself to build strength and balance.

“Every time, I crashed to the ground and fortunately, I didn’t feel any pain yet. I tried it hundreds of times,” she said.

She progressed to walking, she says, a few steps at a time.

Since she's no longer paralyzed, she's no longer allowed in paralympic events. That's a big adjustment to make for someone who rebuilt her life post-injury as a world-class handcyclist. While thrilled by the new freedom she now enjoys, finding "a new purpose in life" is a challenge she faces after more than a decade consumed by training and competition.

The cause of van den Vorst's paralysis had reportedly puzzled doctors, and there are several curious mentions in the article of people familiar with her case who couldn't or wouldn't be interviewed by the author for one reason or another. But there's some good stuff about how sporting federations certify the disabilities of athletes, and it's an interesting look at the flip-side of a best-possible-case outcome which, although rare, isn't unheard of.


eebee's picture

Happy Accidents

An incredible story!

She was hit by a car while in her wheelchair! Wow.

Reminds me of some of those stories of people who mysteriously lost their sight, but regained it after an accidental bump on the head. Although it sounds like they're suggesting that the repose gave her legs time to come back around. 

Training of any kind on the island of Mallorca sounds great right now. 

timv's picture

A second knock on the head

That's a pretty common TV device, isn't it? Someone gets hit on the head and loses his or her memory, or takes on another personality or something, and the cure is for them to get hit on the head again. I seem to remember an episode of The Flintstones like that, where Fred turned into the obnoxious playboy "Frederick" when Barney dropped a bowling ball on his head or something.

I never found a good reference for it, but in searching I saw that there have been several scholarly research papers on the topic of "misconceptions of the general public about brain injury." Amazingly, over 40% of the public apparently agrees with the statement that a second blow to the head could can memory functioning after a traumatic brain injury. (In fact a second impact can have dire or deadly consequences, even when it's quite mild compared to the first one.) And the authors believe that it comes from the public getting too many of their ideas about TBI from the media, and from cartoons in particular.

eebee's picture

Mine was...

...Little House on the Prairie. Mary (the blind chick)'s husband got his sight back that way. And those books were all true, right?  ;-)

The internet is helping perpetuate this theory. Here's a story.

I'm still waiting for my 17th-hole golf-ball smack to make me smart or psychic or somebody else but it hasn't happened yet.  

Completely irrelevant: the captcha threw a Greek word at me so I entered what I'd sound out based on the Russian cyrillic alphabet - and it let me in. I had a smug moment before realizing it probably would have let me in anyway. 

timv's picture

A blind chicken?

Wait, what? They had a blind chicken on Little House on the Prarie? Wouldn't they have just eaten it? TV Is so unrealistic!

My brother hit me on the head with a baseball bat when I was 11 or 12. I can still feel a lump there. I'm not giving him a second whack at it.

I laughed out loud at at your Greek captcha anecdote. C'mon, give yourself a little credit now. <grin>

eebee's picture

The Trouble with Brothers

"My brother hit me on the head with a baseball bat when I was 11 or 12."

It doesn't appear to have harmed you any!

And for the latest installment of what isn't a band-name, Blind Chicken appears to be free. Blind-Ass Chicken apparently, is not. I do remember Chicken Shack though (Christine McVie, née Perfect).

timv's picture

Beyond the Valley of Beneath the Planet of the Band Names

Blind Chicken appears to be free. Blind-Ass Chicken apparently, is not.

Acc'g to AllMusic, The Trouble with Brothers is also untaken. The Trouble with Women and The Trouble with Girls have both been done however. The Trouble Brothers is also apparently unused and I'd gig behind that one in a heartbeat. Rolls right off the tongue...

I do remember Chicken Shack though (Christine McVie, née Perfect).

"She was Perfect. Then she married me." --John McVie interview on VH1 Classic

eebee's picture

Band Names Part Deux...Ou Cinq...

Well I just HAD to go look...plenty of song refs to The Trouble with Boys or The Trouble with Men, but no bands. Does this mean there are less women musicians, or that they don't pick those kinds of band names? :-)

Aw. I'm sure Mac these days won't stop thinking about tomorrow.



roadskater's picture

Interesting, Great News, But Apprehension About the Details

What a strange bit of writing. Yes there are two stories there. The first is certainly that she has regained function, perhaps full function, to her legs. I hope this can lead to a renewed athletic career if that's what she wants to pursue. I'd like to see her keep handcycling, but maybe there's no competition? Surely some people choose it like we choose skating instead of cycling? For any mode of travel, there seems to be someone who prefers it for their own reasons. 

The second story is more curious. Did these people just not like the reporter or the Associated Press in general, or did they not like the previous coverage, and not want to open up? Are they worried something might come out that might discredit her past performances? How could that be, when she was certified for competition? It's odd. It feels like a let sleeping dogs lie thing somehow, though I have no data from which to draw that inference.

I would not usually be so curious but it was clear at least one who knew her and had spoken before didn't really want to do it again, and that she didn't want to open up the discussion of her medical history. It seems that at the time they accepted what happened at some point and that maybe it is just too painful to go back into the what-ifs of it all? 

Maybe I just wanted a simple victorious ending with all the miracles explained! We'll see at least one movie about this story. What an interesting little piece of writing. I'd love to know how the article came about and would like to have been in on the editorial meetings!

Let's hope we see Ms. van der Vorst competing for the rest of her life. 

timv's picture

The curious part

Yes, I didn't want to make too much of that but I had more or less the same reaction. It seems that there's more to the story than what ended up in the story.

Perhaps it was just proper professional respect for privacy with respect to the details of a patient's medical history. Perhaps the reporter didn't go through the proper motions before contacting those involved and make it clear that Ms. van der Vorst had authorized the piece.

Maybe we'll never know. I wouldn't be surprised if paralympians were rather sensitive about anything that could lead to suspicions that their disabilities were anything but genuine...like, say, being involved in a minor traffic accident and suddenly not being paralyzed any more. The article doesn't suggest that anything was amiss, but it doesn't quite dispel such doubts either.

Still, I can't imagine how her handcycling performance would have been helped in any way by her being less disabled than she was supposed to be. And the point seems to be that she'd lived as a paraplegic for 13 years and now she no longer has to, which is genuinely wonderful thing.

roadskater's picture

The Writer and Editors Said a Lot

Right. Much of it could have been the writer's lack of preparation or lack of sensitivity or other similar factors. I believe that lots of stories involve people who only want a little publicity, not an investigative journalism study case. One thing that made this really ring out was that the writer put in much about what was not allowed, so we would know that the writer and AP made an effort to dig deeper. I guess strength in the legs would help with something to push oneself against when powering the handcycle, or something like that, or else they'd let her keep competing if she wanted to. But there was something going on between the writer and subject that felt unsettled, certainly, especially for an AP-level piece, not just some blog.

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