CSU to honor swimming legend Van Dyken

Amy Van Dyken-Rouen strains during a recent rehab session at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Van Dyken-Rouen works with therapist Al Biemond three days a week.

Accepting – and overcoming – challenges has been part of Amy Van Dyken-Rouen’s makeup for as long as she can remember.

As an athlete, she fought through asthma to become one of American’s greatest Olympic heroes, winning six swimming gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games. And now, more than 20 years after her storied career ended, she once again is determined to take on – and overcome – a huge challenge after being paralyzed in an ATV accident in June.

Honoring a true champion

CSU, where she launched her meteoric rise from unknown to six-time Olympic champion, is honoring her fighting spirit during its 100th Homecoming celebration, set for Oct. 13-18.

West Drive, in the heart of the campus, will be renamed Amy Van Dyken Way, and she will serve as grand marshal of the Homecoming parade. Both events are set for Friday, Oct. 17.

“I admired Amy when she won her gold medals, but watching her meet this challenge has been more than inspiring – it’s taken my breath away,” CSU President Tony Frank said of Van Dyken’s response to her injury. “Her grace, perseverance and strength are simply remarkable. She is a true champion in every sense of the word, and we’re so proud we can welcome her back to campus to honor her at this year’s Homecoming.  I can’t think of a better ambassador for CSU, for the Rams – for courage.”

A first for CSU

This marks the first time a campus street has been named for a former student.

Van Dyken came to CSU in 1993 after transferring from the University of Arizona. Her performances almost immediately hit a new level as longtime women’s swimming coach John Mattos worked with the former Cherry Creek High School star on both the mental and physical aspects of swimming.

NCAA’s top swimmer

By December, Van Dyken had posted the No. 1 time in the nation in the 50-yard freestyle. She went on to win that event at the NCAA Championships the following spring, leading CSU to a 12th-place finish. She was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year in 1994.

Amy_John_426“Not long after she got here, Amy really started to see that she could do great things,” Mattos said. “I really think she might be the greatest athlete in CSU history. I don’t think anyone else has done what she’s done – and that’s not belittling any other athlete who has been here. She was just that good.”

Ceremony, parade Oct. 17

Mattos, who was CSU’s head coach for 31 years, said he can think of no one more deserving of having a CSU street named in her honor.

“To have a street named after you, that is just the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “Amy inspired a lot of young swimmers with her performances in the Olympics, but she’s inspiring so many more with the way she has handled her injury and recovery. She has done a lot for CSU – especially lately – with the way she inspires people. And I know she holds CSU in very high regard.”

The street renaming ceremony begins at 11 a.m. on the southwest corner of CSU’s Oval. The Homecoming parade begins at 4:30 before finishing on the CSU campus.