Profiles in courage: An Olympian's biggest challenge

DENVER -- Five weeks have passed since former Olympic swimmer Amy Van Dyken Rouen suffered a severe spinal injury in an all-terrain vehicle accident. It has changed her life forever -- but not her attitude about how to live it.

On her first trip to a grocery store to learn how to shop in a wheelchair, it is clear there is only one word to describe her ... irrepressible.


She says she is feeling good about her recent accomplishments.

"Especially because I can reach the top stuff without having to ask anybody."

Discipline can also describe her. The kind it took a kid with asthma to train and win six Olympic swimming gold medals. The kind it takes to create a new life with husband Tom Rouen after the accident left her a paraplegic. A new life she calls scary, but fun.

For most, "fun" is not a word that would come to mind.

"It has to be fun. This is my new life. I have no other choice. This is what's happened to me. I am a paraplegic. You know, I had fun before in my life. This new, new life has to be fun as well. So fun. Fun it is."

Amy Van Dyken Rouen inspires others as a paraplegic. CBS News

Spinal cord specialist Dr. Mark Johansen is her doctor at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. He says there may be improvement in the months ahead, but he also had a medical reality check, as he reviewed x-rays of her severed spine with CBS News.

"She can't necessarily affect that just by her own sheer will. Like I say, if she could, her spinal cord would be healed by now."

If it was up to her, Amy would be walking already.

Olympian discharged from Colo. hospital

Her goal now is that her new life helps others. Already, paraplegics and others have sent messages saying she is an inspiration to their own healing.

She hopes to walk one day.

"I remember my old life and I remember being able to walk and run and wear high heels and be fabulous. But you know what? I can still wear high heels in this chair. They just won't hurt my feet," she says. "I will still be fabulous."

And fabulous she is.