Monique Van Der Vorst pays us a visit in Fuerteventura

Whatever Monique van der Vorst achieves in her new career as a road cyclist, she will always be “that girl who used to be paralysed”.

But her story, and the attention it attracts, is remarkable, and far from over. The women’s peloton, into which she is now heading, will probably just have to get used to it.

For those of you unaware of her story, here’s a very brief recap. At 13 years of age, as a sports-mad teenager, an ankle operation leaves her left leg totally paralysed and her right knee inefficient. Wheelchair-bound she eventually takes to hand cycling and becomes, well, rather good indeed. Focused, driven, fiercely independent and intelligent, she has the perfect make-up for an elite athlete.

She’s later the victim of another car crash which leaves her with a spinal cord injury, but even competing in a neck brace isn’t enough to prevent her winning two silver medals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Gold in London this year was firmly in her sights.

To cut an incredible story short – and because she will tell it infinitely better herself when her book Ik Loop is out later this Spring – she is involved in yet another serious training accident in 2010 which sets off the incredible sequence of events that put her back on her feet, walking.

No longer paralysed, and no longer an elite athlete – but no longer wheelchair-bound.

And now, here she is, amazingly, only days into her official new contract as a member of the women’s Rabobank Cycling Team, flying along beside me on her Giant bike, training in the sun and wind of Fuerteventura. And she is smiling.

She smiles a lot.

“I love it here,” she says, “the roads are quiet, the tarmac is good, the wind makes you strong, and Playitas is such a great place to stay. It’s all perfect.

I had to hastily arrange a TV and Press interview, as her presence on the island had been discovered. Monique is sensitive to the effect too much attention on her might have on her teammates.

“I have a lot to prove. I have been given this amazing opportunity. I could never have imagined this a year ago. But now I just have to get better, and try and earn my place on the team. I don’t want to finish last and be the person everyone is wanting to interview after a race, when another girl is the winner.”

But the attention is inevitable. Her absolute determination is a constant inspiration. Her smile and positive personality belie her absolute concentration in everything she sets out to do. It was a pleasure having her here, and I look forward to having her back as a Special Guest on one of our events.

I’m not giving away her current fitness levels to her competitors but I will say this – if it’s windy, she’ll just take it in her stride. Like she does with everything else in her life.

- Mark Davies -

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