Rabobank ends contract with former paralympian Monique van der Vorst
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rabobank ends contract with former paralympian Monique van der Vorst

by Shane Stokes at 10:56 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
“It is a medical thing: the rest is for her to tell.”

Monique Van der VorstSeven months after it signed former paralympian Monique van der Vorst to the team in what appeared to be a miraculous recovery from paralysis, the Rabobank team has today announced that it will end its contract with the rider on July 1st.

A statement released this afternoon said that team doctors had advised her to no longer take part in bike racing, and that this ended plans to ‘cultivate Van der Vorst into a pro racer…so keeping her on the squad is no longer a workable situation.’ It said that she and her agent had taken the decision well, and that Rabobank would see that she got ‘a good settlement and support.’

Contacted by VeloNation, team spokesman Richard Plugge said that he wasn’t able to give more details. “As the press release says, it is our medical staff who gave her the advice not to compete,” he explained. “That is the only thing we can say about it. The rest is for her to tell, if she likes to speak more on it or not.

“It is a medical thing; all we know is that she was advised not to compete, and that is why we acted. We don’t know her precise situation now.”

VeloNation has contacted her agent for clarification but is yet to receive a response.

Reports of dramatic recovery generated worldwide headlines:

The 27 year old former Paralympic world championship silver medallist made what was seen as a dramatic recovery from paralysis in July 2010, regaining the use of her legs over a decade after she began using a wheelchair. In November she spoke extensively about this recovery to VeloNation in a two part interview, saying that after being hospitalized in March 2010 due to an accident with a cyclist, that she started feeling tingling sensations in her paralysed limbs and was able to start walking again in July of that year.

Speaking then about her background, Van der Vorst said that she had lost the use of one of her legs following an infection at thirteen years of age, taking up handcycling at that point. Then, when training for the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, she was hit by a car when training and said that she suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C4 vertebra. As a result of that, she said both her legs were paralysed.

She went on to take two silver medals in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing and won the overall handcycle category at the 2009 Hawaii Ironman.

After her recovery, she took up road cycling and last autumn was signed to compete with the Rabobank women’s team in 2012.

“I train almost every day, six days a week,” she told VeloNation at the time. “I think at the beginning of the year I will ride a lot of small races to learn. I don’t know what the first race will be, but I’ll work as hard as possible.”

Van der Vorst said that she hoped to learn from world number one Marianne Vos, and that long term she was aiming to compete in the 2016 Olympics. She emphasised that it would take her time to develop, and that people shouldn’t expect her to win races in 2012. “I’m just at the bottom and while I have got this great opportunity, I did not prove anything yet. I want to keep the pressure off a bit because we don’t know how it will work out,” she told this website then.

Confusion about previous medical condition:

Van der Vorst trained for the new season in Fuerteventura, telling VeloNation at the end of December that she was training hard there. In addition to clocking up warm-weather miles, she was also using that time to work on her autobiography, which was scheduled to be released in April.

“I will start in really small races in Holland, the club competitions. I think they will already begin at the end of January, and I will do a couple every week,” she said at the time. “It will give me experience and to ride in a group.

“I don’t know when I will start in the bigger races – it is up to Jeroen [Blijlevens, Rabobank coach - ed.]. I am just one of the twelve and I have to work as hard as the others to get my place.

“There is no pressure from the team – they are very relaxed with me. I don’t have to get any results this year, it is just about learning, developing myself and my skills. So that is good…I have enough pressure from myself. Of course I want to go fast, but I don’t want to miss any steps in the process.”

She didn’t compete with the Rabobank team in the spring, working on her training. However at the end of March the Dutch De Pers publication released a bombshell; it said that Van der Vorst has admitted to being able to stand and walk at limited moments during the years that she had previously implied that she had no movement. It had contacted her after it said that many witnesses had contradicted 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.

Challenged by De Pers, she answered that her problems may have been at a brain rather than a spinal level. “Nobody understood me. Doctors diagnosed me with incomplete paraplegia, without explaining what they meant,” she said then. “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.”

According to Thomas Jensen, Professor of Rehabilitation Research at the Faculty of Kinesiology, he believed that Van der Vorst's disability was genuine.

"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.”

VeloNation contacted the Rabobank team after the publication of the De Pers story. It said that it would sit down with her and work out their future plans together, and that she ‘needed support.’

“We hired Monique as a bike rider, and not as a former Paralympian," said the team's-then press officer Luuc Eisenga. "We have to discuss it with her. We will just take our time and sit down with her, and discuss what is best."

Since then she has tweeted at least twice about being unable to walk for periods of time, adding to the general confusion about her medical situation and future plans.

What’s clear, though, is that the Rabobank project has come to a end.

Come back soon for more on this story….


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