​Olympian Amy Van Dyken learning to walk again

PHOENIX -- A year ago Amy Van Dyken was in a hospital bed unable to move -- the result of an ATV accident. Even though doctors initially said she suffered a severe spinal injury, she vowed to walk again. Now she is, with help from a full-body machine that moves her legs.

But the therapists keep dialing down the machine's assistance, ramping up her struggle. Van Dyken says walking is physically demanding.

"You can see I get done with walking maybe 50 feet and I'm sweating," she said. "When you walk you don't grunt like I'm grunting."

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Amy Van Dyken walks with the help of a full body-machine, nearly a year after suffering a spinal injury
CBS News

Al Biemond oversees her therapy at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix where they found rare good news: Unlike many paralyzed patients, her spine still has some connections to her lower body.

"There are nerves that are making it past the level of her injury," said Biemond.

Beimond says those nerves have given motion in her leg and has helped in her recovery.

"If I'd only got one nerve that's attached, then I'm gonna take that nerve and I'm going to use it to hopefully be able to find new pathways," said Van Dyken.

There seems to be no stopping her. Van Dyken continues to go on hikes and give public speeches. She also drives a specially modified Camaro SS, where from the outside no one can tell she's paralyzed.

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Amy Van Dyken, right, drives in her modified Camero SS with CBS News correspondent Barry Petersen
CBS News

"It gives you your freedom back," she said.

Van Dyken took up swimming to beat asthma and went on to win six Olympic gold medals. That championship spirit is tested now as never before. She says this rehabilitation has been harder than training for the Olympics.

"I was going for the pride of my country, which is great, which is awesome, but my life is a better incentive," said Van Dyken. "I'm training for my life right now."