Now-paralyzed six-time gold medalist bonds with others through injury

"Your parents don't know what you're going through, your friends don't know what you're going through, but people who have been here know what you're going through."

Let go of the past. Live for the future.

It's easier said than done; accomplishments from the past so often shape a future.

Amy Van Dyken Rouen will always be known as a six-time Olympic gold medalist. In 1996, she became the first American woman to four gold medals at the summer games. This swimmer's past is one shared in the memories of so many.

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More recently, her name was in the news for the 2014 ATV accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Amy spent weeks at Craig Hospital in Englewood learning to adapt to a new life. The rehabilitation was long, painful and grueling. Nearly four years later, she looks back on those days in her past.

“There are a lot of awful memories, but there are also a lot of amazing memories,” Amy said.

Going back to Craig brings it all back. The good days and bad days and the connection she feels to everyone else brought here under unique circumstances.

“You just feel a bond. And again, it goes back to we are in a community that is very tight knit now," Amy said. "You don’t want to be a part of it, but if you have to become a part of it, it’s a pretty cool community."

Carley Baldwin joined this community nearly a year ago. She was on vacation in Belize when she took a dive into the ocean. She hit a sand bar.

“I knew something was terribly wrong because I floated to the surface and couldn’t move my body,” Baldwin recalled.

Inside Craig Hospital, Carley’s family posted photos on her wall to make her happy and keep her positive. Photos of her little boy. Photos of her friends.

Also, a photo from her past that was taken when Carley was 9 years old and competing in a big swim meet.

Amy Van Dyken was there and Carley rushed over to meet her.

“I remember watching her in the '96 Olympics, my entire swim team huddled in the room of the rec center getting out of practice and watching her race,” Baldwin said.

The photo brought back a good memory and a more recent memory too for Carley.

“Honestly, I thought of Amy because of her spirit and everything. And I followed her over the years after her injury. She was my biggest role model as a child growing up,” Baldwin said.

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Carley’s family reached out Amy to share that story and Amy knew it was time for her to visit Craig Hospital again. Amy met Carley and her family. They talked about swimming, her son and everything else.

“Your parents don’t know what you’re going through, your friends don’t know what you’re going through, but people who have been here know what you’re going through,” Amy said.

In the months since they met, Carley has made significant progress; she’s getting stronger every day. Her family is working to help pay her medical bills. You can learn more here.

Amy continues her work as a broadcaster and public speaker. She and her husband, former Broncos punter Tom Rouen, have started a foundation to help improve the lives of people with spinal cord injuries.