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Olympic Gold Medalist Amy van Dyken’s Recent Injury and ATV Safety

In a prior post, I addressed the risk surrounding all-terrain vehicles, otherwise known as ATVs. These recreational vehicles are often known to flip over and can cause spinal injury from impact, as well as other injuries including suffocation from the weight of the vehicle. ATV’s can weigh over 500 pounds.  In the prior blog post  I discussed the danger children and adolescents face when riding these motorized vehicles, but it is important to recognize that there is a high risk of injury for ATV riders of all ages.

Earlier this month, six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen was thrown from her ATV after hitting a curb and flying over a five-to-seven foot embankment while out riding with her husband in Arizona. The 41-year-old, an avid and experienced ATV rider, injured her spinal cord at the T-11 vertebrae, causing paralysis. The broken vertebra compressed the spinal cord, causing injury. On June 7, she underwent a six-hour fusion surgery, in which rods were placed in her back. Fortunately, Van Dyken-Rouen escaped head injury even though she was not wearing a helmet. The Olympic champion has no memory of the accident and is currently in good spirits at a rehabilitation center in Colorado.

Sadly, this crash is only one of numerous, tragic ATV accidents that occur each year—many, unfortunately, leading to death. ATV-related injuries are increasing in the United States with more than 700 deaths and 100,000 injuries each year. Yet despite the numerous injuries and deaths reported, legislation has not been implemented to place ATVs under federal safety regulations. Restrictions on ATVs are actually diminishing, with more and more states opening roadways for ATV riders.


Even though these recreational vehicles have a warning label to discourage driving on pavement due to their increased tendency to flip over on that particular surface, at least 18 states have passed laws opening specified public roads to ATVs since 2012. In addition, there is no regulation on the age of drivers, nor is there a requirement to wear a helmet or seat belt while riding or driving an ATV.

If you decide to ride on an ATV, trained instructors urge you to ensure your vehicle is the right model for your weight; always wear a proper helmet and other ATV safety equipment; stay on the specified trails; and never ride on the back of an ATV if the vehicle is only meant for one person.  And before starting, get professional  instruction in how to handle the vehicle properly to try and minimize the risks of flips and roll over accidents.