John Lewis intended only to say hello to Amy Van Dyken and get his picture taken with the six-time Olympic swimming gold medalist when he saw her at the UCLA-USC women’s swim meet last week.
A former competitive swimmer and the father of swimmers, Lewis had followed Van Dyken’s career from afar — especially her 1996 and 2000 Olympic triumphs — and rooted for her as a fellow Coloradan.
But when he approached Van Dyken, who is paralyzed from the waist down since she severed her spinal cord in a near-fatal ATV accident last June, his poise crumbled. “It was so emotional,” he said. “I started crying and said, ‘I’m so sorry.'”
Van Dyken, preparing for her role as a commentator on the Pac-12 Networks’ telecast of the meet, comforted him and told him not to be sorry. “I was crying like crazy and she was smiling at me,” Lewis said.
Van Dyken has learned to handle such occasions gracefully.
“I understand that people are sorry that the accident happened. I’m sorry that it happened, too, but it’s an accident. Accidents happen,” she said. “And the things I’ve gotten to do since I’ve been sitting have been pretty cool. I’ve met some really fun people. I’m back at work, I’m back doing what I love, so don’t feel sorry for me.”
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