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U.S. swim star Van Dyken back in pool to battle paralysis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken said she finally felt "normal" when she took to the pool recently as part of her rehabilitation program following an all-terrain vehicle accident that left her partially paralyzed.

But Van Dyken, one of the most decorated Olympic swimmers of all time, is still struggling to train herself to adjust to everyday activities with her injuries, she said in an interview that aired Friday on NBC's "Today" program.

Going into the pool was "the first time I felt ... normal," she said. "I was sculling and my legs were dragging behind, which they normally would, and it was really cool in the pool. It was awesome."

Speaking from the Englewood, Colorado hospital where she has been undergoing intense physical therapy since she severed her spine in the accident earlier this month, Van Dyken, 41, said everything about her new regimen was difficult.

"They teach you everyday life - how to sit down in an airplane seat, how to sit down in a car," she said. "It's very hard. It's a lot of work."

Still, the six-time Olympic gold medalist said she was determined to meet a new goal while at Craig Hospital, a suburban Denver facility that specializes in spinal cord and brain injuries and is near her family.

"My ultimate goal is in August to walk out of here," van Dyken said, sitting alongside her husband, former Denver Broncos punter Tom Rouen, for the interview. "Right now, I suck at getting out of my chair."

She said she worked on her rehabilitation for seven hours a day, not unlike the grueling hours she put in as an Olympic athlete.

Calling herself lucky, she said she only felt pain at the incision site.

She said she did not have time to dwell on her paralysis and was focused on getting stronger after the accident, which took place near her Arizona home.

"This is more than just for a gold medal," she said. "This is for my life, our life."

(Story has been corrected to fix typo in word "normally" in third paragraph)

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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