SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CBS4) – Former Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen is proving why she is a true champion.

Van Dyken, 41, was seriously injured in an ATV accident on June 6 near her Arizona home.

Before her departure for Craig Hospital in Englewood on Wednesday the former Coloradan talked with reporters from a stretcher in a Scottsdale airport hangar. She showed her positive spirit in a 12 minute conversation before boarding a medical flight.

“Be happy every day you wake up. Every day you take a breath is a blessing. I think sometimes we take it for granted,” she said. “I’m alive. I made it.”

Van Dyken says she can’t remember much about the accident that severed her spine and left her paralyzed. She said she does remember waking up to a doctor saying she had to say her goodbyes to her husband Tom Rouen, the former Denver Broncos punter.

“I look at what happened — when my husband found me, and I don’t remember, I was face down, not breathing and (my doctor)… told Tom and I to say our goodbyes,” she said. “There was a good chance I wasn’t going to make it out of surgery.

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen (credit: CBS)

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen (credit: CBS)

“So it was one of those things where I looked at my husband and said ‘I love you. Goodbye. Please continue on with your life. I allow you to date.’ Which was hard to say. But we said our goodbyes. And to do that and then to be here now and be with him is the most amazing thing.

WEB EXTRA VIDEO: Van Dyken’s complete 12 minute discussion with reporters

“Yes, this injury sucks, and yes, things hurt. But I’m alive. And I’m so thankful to be alive. And so that’s why I can be positive about it, you know? It helps me get through the pain.”

An X-ray showing Amy Van Dyken's damaged spinal cord after her accident (credit: CBS)

An X-ray showing Van Dyken’s damaged spinal cord after her accident (credit: CBS)

Van Dyken said she had no feeling from anywhere from her pubic bone down after the accident.

“A severe spinal cord injury with a complete loss of motor and sensory is a very difficult challenge for any patient, however in the hours after her operation, she was smiling,” said Dr. Luis Manuel Tumialan, the neurosurgeon who operated on her. “She wasn’t smiling because it was easy. She was smiling because of the fortitude of her inner person, something I haven’t seen in the 14 years I’ve been doing this.

“The past 12 days, she literally walked through hell with a smile on her face, the likes of which I have never seen.”

WEB EXTRA VIDEO: Van Dyken’s neurosurgeon Dr. Luis Manuel Tumialan’s complete comments

Van Dyken said she chose Craig Hospital because of its great reputation and also because she remembers the care they provided to victims of the Columbine High School massacre. She said the Denver-area hospital will “give her the best chance at a normal life.”

Van Dyken says she’s now anxious to get on with her life. She refers to her days since the accident her “rebirth.”

“I get to learn how to do everything all over again and I’m anxious to do that. It’s time to start so I can get back to Arizona and continue my life — start my new life, I guess.”

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