Amy Van Dyken (1973–) is a six-time Olympic gold medalist and former competitive swimmer for the United States. In 1996 she became the first American woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games. Despite an ATV crash in 2014 that left her paralyzed from the waist down, the Colorado native continues a career of motivational speaking and charity work.
Born on February 15, 1973, in Englewood, Amy Deloris Van Dyken lived in the Denver suburb of Centennial for much of her childhood. From a very young age, she dealt with severe asthma and allergies that hindered her breathing. When she was six years old, a local doctor prescribed swimming to help strengthen her lungs. Although Van Dyken immersed herself in the activity, she did not have the strength to swim the length of an Olympic pool until she was twelve years old.
Starting in 1987, Van Dyken attended Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, where she helped her team win the state championship and was a six-time high school All-American. By the time Van Dyken graduated, she held five school records along with two state records in the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly. As a senior in 1991, she was named Colorado Swimmer of the Year.
Van Dyken started her college career at the University of Arizona. She swam well while at Arizona, winning two silver medals at the 1992 US Swimming Championships, but her career began to take off after she transferred to Colorado State University in Fort Collins ahead of her junior year in 1993. Working with longtime swimming coach John Mattos, she set seven school and Western Athletic Conference (WAC) records during her junior year, and in 1994 won the NCAA Championship in the 50-meter freestyle in addition to setting the new American record, becoming only the second woman in history to break twenty-two seconds. That year she was named Colorado State’s Female Athlete of the Year and the NCAA’s Female Swimmer of the Year.
While still in college, Van Dyken was already winning medals for the United States at international competitions such as the 1994 World Swimming Championships and the 1995 Pan American Games. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, she earned the title of Colorado’s “Golden Girl” by becoming the first American woman in history to win four gold medals at a single Olympics. At just twenty-three years old, she won the 50-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly and was a member of winning teams in the 4×100m freestyle relay and the 4×100m medley relay. The Associated Press and ESPN each named her Female Athlete of the Year.
Four years later, at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Van Dyken retained her world-class status by adding two more gold medals in addition to helping the US team set a new world record in the 4×100m freestyle relay. Van Dyken’s total of six gold medals ranks her second among American female swimmers and fifth among all women in Olympic history.
Retirement and Injury
Van Dyken retired from competitive swimming after the 2000 Olympics. In 2001 she married Tom Rouen, a former punter in the National Football League. They split their time between Scottsdale, Arizona, and Keystone, Colorado.
After retiring from swimming, Van Dyken worked as a swimming coach and radio host in Arizona. In 2014, however, her life changed when she suffered a spinal-cord injury in a life-threatening ATV crash in Arizona. The accident severed her spinal cord and left her paralyzed from the waist down. After a lengthy recovery, Van Dyken founded Amy’s Army, a Scottsdale-based nonprofit that aims to improve the lives of people with spinal-cord injuries by providing wheelchairs to injured children and funding medical research into reconnecting severed spinal cords so that individuals can regain mobility. She is also active in Colorado charities such as Colorado Youth Outdoors, for which she and her husband host the annual Tom Rouen and Amy Van Dyken Celebrity Shootout in Evergreen.
Today Van Dyken serves as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network’s swimming coverage and as a contributor to a variety of Denver radio stations and television programs. She also gives motivational speeches at charity events, women’s foundations, and award ceremonies across the country. In addition, in July 2019 she completed her first athletic competition since her spinal-cord injury, finishing second at the WheelWOD Games, a type of CrossFit Games for wheelchair athletes around the world.