How Greg Roskopf, an Englewood-based muscle function specialist, is helping Amy Van Dyken-Rouen get back on her feet — literally.
By Nicki Jhabvala courtesy of the Denver Post
“It was just a friendly visit that turned into something. And then turned into a whole lot.”
That’s how Amy Van Dyken-Rouen recalls the start of a life-changing process at Craig Hospital late last June as friends and family flowed in and out of her room, trying to brighten her day after an ATV accident earlier that month left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Like the other visitors, Greg Roskopf believed his desire to help would be limited to offering words of encouragement for his friend, who was facing a long, difficult fight.
But, on his return visit two weeks later, everything changed.
A magnetic resonance imaging scan taken after her arrival at Craig revealed that Van Dyken-Rouen’s spinal cord had not been completely severed, as originally feared. There was still a partial connection, which meant that maybe, just maybe, she would be able to move her legs again and perhaps even walk again.
“Let me just try to work on you,” Roskopf, an Englewood-based muscle function specialist, told Van Dyken-Rouen. “I know you can’t move, but I want you to just think about lifting your leg up into my hand. Picture it in your head.”
Roskopf hoped visualizing a contraction would help her move her muscles.
With a close friend watching, Van Dyken-Rouen did as she was told. She couldn’t see it and she certainly couldn’t feel it, but in picturing her leg contracting, her muscles responded. Her friend saw the contraction immediately and had to leave the room she became so emotional.
“They were very light contractions,” Roskopf recalled. “But I was like, ‘Whoa, she’s actually resisting me here. We have big potential now.’”
* * *
Initially, doctors told Van Dyken-Rouen she would be never be able to walk again. Never be able to move from the waist down. Never be able to resume the daily activities of her previous life, the one before the accident left the six-time Olympic swimming champion on the brink of death.
But when that MRI scan revealed her spinal cord was still partially intact, she and her husband, former Broncos punter Tom Rouen, turned to Roskopf, a longtime friend and the founder of Muscle Activation Techniques.
He was the one man, they believed, who could most help her exceed the initial grim diagnosis.
After all, he helped her return to form once before.
Following the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where Van Dyken-Rouen struck gold four times, the Colorado native underwent multiple surgeries to repair an injured shoulder. The pain wouldn’t fade, but her hopes of winning gold again slowly did. In 1999, Roskopf began working with her, helping her regain strength and mobility so she could make the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“I was told after my first surgery that I was probably never going to swim again,” she said. “I thought I was done. He worked on me, I think it was probably not even for a half-hour, and I got my arm up over my head. And I didn’t have any pain.”
At the Sydney Games, Van Dyken-Rouen won two more gold medals.
“Without him,” she said, “there’s no way I would’ve gone back to my second Olympics.”
Fourteen years later, Roskopf was back at her side for a much different, much bigger task.
For about two months after that ground-breaking visit last July, Roskopf worked with Van Dyken-Rouen every two weeks at Craig. When she was moved back to Arizona last September, Roskopf started flying to Phoenix every month to work with her and her doctors at AZ Pain Centers, where she receives Regenexx injections in her back. Her hope is the stem cell-and-blood platelet injections, combined with general physical therapy and Roskopf’s muscle activation work, will continue to help her broaden her range of movement, improve her stability and get her back on her feet — literally.
His philosophy, known as M.A.T., has helped people who simply struggle to stand without pain, or for years have dealt with nagging injuries.
He was once one of them.