Six-time Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen smiles and gestures June 18 as she is transferred to her room after arriving at Craig Hospital, in Englewood, Colo. (Brennan Linsley / AP)
Todd Honea discovered his calling, partly out of necessity, while in the Marines: to get fit and help others to do the same. But he could never imagine, after graduating as Ironman from Platoon 2082 Hotel Company boot camp, that eventually his fitness regimen would help to save the life of an Olympian.
Amy Van Dyken-Rouen simply wanted to get into better shape when she was referred to Honea at StudioFit in Scottsdale about a year ago.
“One of my dearest friends (Elisa Persi) said I was going to like this place,” Van Dyken-Rouen said. “I went and met Todd and had a good vibe about him. Every time I would come home (from Los Angeles, where she was then working for Fox Sports Radio) I made sure to go work out there. It was a no-brainer to join when I came back to Arizona.”
Elite swimming took a toll on Van Dyken-Rouen, a six-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1996 and 2000 Games. There were shoulder surgeries leading in to her second Olympics — “I’m surprised that I can even put on a swimsuit, let alone try to make an Olympic team,” she said before the 2000 Olympic Trials — followed by back and neck spasms affecting her entire body.
Settling in Scottsdale with her husband, Tom Rouen, Van Dyken-Rouen found some relief at AZ Pain Centers and became one of their celebrity spokespersons, appearing in television commercials with former Arizona State and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White.
Honea returned to his native Arizona after his military service to begin accumulating fitness certifications and working in the industry. When StudioFit opened a second location in May 2013, he joined as co-manager and soon would meet Van Dyken-Rouen.
“I knew her name and that she was friends with one of our members,” Honea said. “As soon as I started training her, there was an instant bond between us. We get each other.”
Or as an Olympic athlete, Van Dyken-Rouen understood what Honea demanded of her.
“There were a lot of nasty looks, mostly me to him,” she said, laughing but only half-joking. “He’s not afraid to push me. I was cussing him out. How could he hurt me, just a petite little flower, like that? But if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”
On June 6, Van Dyken-Rouen nearly died in an ATV accident in Show Low. She believes her survival of the crash and subsequent six-hour spinal surgery at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center is in part due to what Honea describes as three-dimensional training “so everything starts working as one unit and makes the body more adaptable to change and trauma.”
Life for Van Dyken-Rouen now is all about change. She’s mostly paralyzed from the waist down although recently, during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital in Denver, was able to move her hip flexors. That breakthrough will allow her to put braces on her legs to prevent her knees from buckling and walk with crutches.
Van Dyken-Rouen said she uses the strength gained from training with Honea daily.
“Without that, I would have been crushed by the ATV and who knows if I would be recovering as well?” she said. “It makes getting in and out of the wheelchair easier. He also works a lot on mental toughness, which you need in a situation like this. Not that I didn’t have that before, but it’s been so long since I competed that it’s nice to hone it. You always want to feel you’re in shape even if it’s just to look good in short shorts. But it can also save your life.”
Honea learned about Van Dyken-Rouen’s accident June 7 and was at the hospital with her family until completion of her surgery. He was one of the first to speak with her when she could see visitors 72 hours after surgery.
“She was thankful, and I was thankful she was still alive,” Honea said. “I said, ‘All right Amy we’re going to have this conversation once.’ I told her, ‘I’m very sorry for this happening and in many aspects I wish it had been me and I feel horrible. With that said, I’m not going to give you any more slack than I ever did. I’m going to train you just as hard, if not harder, and we have work to do.’”
Van Dyken-Rouen said, “Yes we do,” and they hugged.
She is scheduled to be discharged Aug. 14 from Craig Hospital and return to Arizona by early September.
There was never any doubt in her mind that the next step would be to return to training with Honea, who will be in Colorado to meet with her and her physical therapist this month. Almost four months before the accident, she wrote a five-star review of StudioFit on its website, saying she would “follow him (Honea) to the end of the earth.”
Honea, 42, a year older than Van Dyken-Rouen, looks no-nonsense with his red hair combed back and a sinewy build that matches his profession. The soft side to the father of two young children comes out talking about his clients and the grief they went through when one of their own was severely injured.
“Right after it first happened, people couldn’t complain about doing too many lunges,” Honea said. “It kind of put life into perspective. We’re all as a family very excited to get her back in here and get our arms around her, embrace her and help her with this part of her life.”
Van Dyken-Rouen is planning to complete a marathon in her purple wheelchair with skulls, which she gets in another two weeks, with her brother David. Honea, with a couple of P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona 1/2 marathons to his credit, promises to not only train her — upper body, grip strength, core stability — for the 26.2-mile race but complete it with her.
“I would say there are no accidents in life,” Honea said. “Who knows why she was sent to me, but she was. We all had our part and still do. It’s my job to fulfill that part. With Amy, I always expect extraordinary. It’s what she does.”
Jeff Metcalfe writes for AZCentral Sports