(CBS) - Six-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken-Rouen left the hospital Thursday, just two months after an ATV accident paralyzed her from the waist down.
The former Olympic swimmer is handling the injury like a champion, CBS News' Barry Petersen reports.
"It's been a lot of smiles and a lot of laughs and a lot of woo-hoos," Van Dyken said.
Call it Graduation Day, coming after eight weeks of rehab for a spinal cord injury that cost her the use of her legs and nearly killed her.
"You all of the sudden go, 'Woop! We got another chance. Let's do it right!'" Van Dyken said. "I'm going to ride bikes. I'm going to mountain climb. I'm going to rock climb. I want to do everything."
Van Dyken said the biggest challenge was returning to the swimming pool.
"I went in there as a spinal-cord-injured individual, and I was like, 'I'm not doing therapy. I'm swimming laps.' And they looked at me like, 'This is not what we're doing.' That was really, really hard," Van Dyken said.
Many hard workouts taught her a new way of living.
"When I first came in, if you remember, I was on a stretcher. Didn't really know how to use a wheelchair," Van Dyken said. "Now I am the wheelie queen."
But she wanted to make sure people weren't fooled by her ever-present smile.
"I don't want to portray the fact that because I have a smile on my face that it really is easy," Van Dyken said. "It's really not."
It's life-changing, and that means re-learning things, like how to drive.
Van Dyken's husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, said, "How's her driving? It scares me a little."
To which Amy responded, "But it did before."
Now, with gratitude for being alive and grit to master this new life, has come one thing more.
"I've met some amazing people here, and they've really changed the way I think," Van Dyken said. "I've made lifelong friends, and they've changed the way that I think about the world."
Her new goal: To raise awareness about the need for more research into spinal cord injuries.
No surprise, she's optimistic.
"I would love to see a cure for this sometime in my lifetime," she said, "and I think that we will."
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Posted by Melissa Brunner