Rabobank to assess Van der Vorst situation after new twist to comeback story
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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rabobank to assess Van der Vorst situation after new twist to comeback story

by Shane Stokes at 2:24 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Injury
Dutchwoman now says she was previously able to stand prior to ‘miracle recovery’

Monique Van der VorstThe Rabobank cycling team has said that it will sit down with Monique Van der Vorst and work out her future plans after a peculiar twist in the story which captivated the attention of the media and public in the Netherlands and further afield.

The 27 year old former Paralympic world championship silver medalist made what was seen as a dramatic recovery from paralysis in July 2010 when she began walking once again, over a decade after she began using a wheelchair. This gained considerable press coverage and mystified medical professionals.

However, according to an article printed in the Dutch De Pers publication, Van der Vorst has now admitted to being able to stand and walk at limited moments during the years that she had previously implied that she had no movement.

The newspaper spoke to her after it said that many witnesses had contacted them contradicting her story. One said that they saw her standing after putting her wheelchair in the car, following a presentation to her in November 2009; it claims that others saw her walk after races.

She had previously said that a spinal injury was responsible for the paralysis of one leg, but now says there was a different cause. “Nobody understood me. Doctors diagnosed me with incomplete paraplegia, without explaining what they meant,” she told De Pers. “Others treated me like I was crazy. I really did have some sort of paralysis. Not because of problems in my spine, but because of the way my brain controlled my body.

“My current physician compares it to a car. My engine wasn’t broken, but I had forgotten how to drive. Sometimes the paralysis would be gone, and then I could stand for a while, or walk, but never for long.”

She said there are a number of reasons why the issue could have occurred, including a difficult birth, ending up in a wheelchair as a teenager and a near-death experience, presumably referring to the accident with the car which left her in a coma in 2008.

Previous account of paralysis:

Van der Vorst gave numerous interviews in recent years, speaking about her condition. She said that she lost the use of one of her legs following an infection at thirteen years of age, taking up handcycling at that point. She became stronger and stronger at the sport, improving to a high level.

Then something happened which she said cost her movement and sensation in her ‘good’ leg, the right one.

“I qualified for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008. I was training in the US for that and I got hit by a car when I was training,” she told VeloNation in a two-part interview published in November. “There I got a spinal cord injury, incomplete at C4, and from that moment both my legs were paralysed.

“That was just before the Paralympics. I got a lot of damage to my neck, so I had to wear a neck brace in the Olympic Games. I was in a coma and had all kind of problems with my memory, so, it was a really bad accident. But I had one goal and that was to take part in the Paralympics, so I had to put my emotions and everything away to one side to reach that goal. I did that, taking two silver medals there.”

The fascinating thing about Van der Vorst’s story was what has been described by many as a miracle recovery. In March 2010 she was hit from behind by a cyclist while riding her handcycle in Majorca. She described being thrown to the ground, experiencing severe leg spasms, then later being hospitalized due to back pain.

She told VeloNation that in June 2010, she suddenly noticed that she could feel a tingling sensation in her left foot, then later the same in the other limb. She began putting weight on it and said she was able to start walking again in July of that year.

Over time she took up regular cycling, and last autumn was signed to compete with the Rabobank women’s team this season.

Confusion over previous condition:

Monique van der VorstThe latest story has caused confusion about her condition and also the extent of the paralysis that she had previously said was in place.

“There were two injuries,” she told VeloNation in November. “The spinal cord was injured for two and a half years. But my left leg was not paralysed because of that spinal problem, but because the nerves just below the hip were damaged when I was young.

“About the spinal cord injury, they [doctors] said it was incomplete. They said there is always a chance that you could recover from a spinal cord injury. However they said it wasn’t expected in my case because I had been without any movement or sensation in my legs for so long.”

The latter statement is the most confusing when considered along with the most recent interview. If De Pers is correct in its assertion that someone saw her stand in November 2009, then that conflicts with her story that neither leg worked after the car crash.

If that date is inaccurate and it happened prior to her 2008 accident, then it is a different matter.

According to Thomas Jensen, Professor of Rehabilitation Research at the Faculty of Kinesiology, Van der Vorst had some mobility when only one leg was affected.

"For several years I have done regular physical tests with Monique to assist in preparing her training schedule,” he told Advalvas.vu. “Because of dystrophy as an adolescent, she ended up in a wheelchair. In the first years she could still use her right leg, the left was much weaker. Most of the day she sat in a wheelchair, but she could still walk a little.”

Asked about her condition post-accident, he said that he was not a doctor, but that he believed she had ‘all the symptoms of an incomplete paraplegic. Her legs were very thin and she always sat in a wheelchair.”

When asked if her paralympic medals should be returned, he rejected this scenario. He said that there are very strong rules in place to ensure that there is no possibilit of fraud.

“The verification is very strict,” he said. “Her torso funtion was good, but her legs were not. She had no advantage over the other athletes. Her prizes are earned.”

Time to clarify:

Given the confusion, it’s clear that more clarification is needed about De Pers’ claims, Van der Vorst's response, and the suggestions that several people have questioned her story.

In recent months Van der Vorst spoke to multiple media sources about being paralysed for a long period of time, and the sense of wonder she felt when she learned to walk again.

“It was really a shock. First of all, it was beautiful because you could finally stand and look somebody directly in the eyes,” she told VeloNation.

Asked by De Pers if she had told untruths, she denied this was the case. “I did not lie, I just didn't know which words to choose,” she said, peculiarly. “In hindsight what I said was untrue but I didn't know any better. I wasn't aware that I stood on my legs before. I shouldn't have been in the media, I reckon. I was so confused about everything that had happened. I just didn't know what was happening to me.

“How was I to explain something I didn't understand myself? And nobody really asked any further so I couldn't tell it any better.”

This website today requested clarification from both her and her press agent about the situation; no response has been received as yet, but will be published if they do.

We spoke to Rabobank press officer Luuc Eisenga on the matter, and got the team’s response.

“We hired Monique as a bike rider, and not as a former Paralympian. We have to discuss it with her. We will just take our time and sit down with her, and discuss what is best,” he said.

Van der Vorst's autobiography Ik Loop! (I Walk!) is due to be released next month.


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