When pro road cycling team Rabobank announced recently that it was adding Monique van der Vorst to its roster, the news easily could have been dismissed as just another press release — if you knew nothing about van der Vorst. But the signing of this Dutch women to the ranks of pro roadies is an astounding development and the capstone one of the most extraordinary stories in cycling or any other sport.
The reason is that van der Vorst, now age 27, has been handicapped without the proper use of her legs since age 13, when a routine ankle surgery left her disabled — disabilities further compounded by a spinal cord injury in 2008 when she was hit by a car and broke her back at the T4 vertebrae, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. But none of that stopped her from a career as a competitive athlete: She won the first handcycle race she entered, in 2000, and just one year later became the European handcycling champion. Then in 2002, with the addition of a new bike that enabled her to put more of her upper body power into forward motion, she captured the world championship in road hand cycling. Over the next eight years, she continue to rack up wins, records, and awards, including two Paralympic silver medals.
She was also struck by cars three times while riding, and after the last incident, in 2010, something extraordinary happened. While in the hospital, she began to feel tingling in her left leg. She was, miraculously, regaining feeling and the use her legs. On November 20, 2010, she began to walk again for the first time since 1997.
How she will perform with Rabobank is yet to be determined, of course, since van der Vorst just came on board. “She has the right mentality, willpower,” said team manager Jeroen Blijlevens. “She has proved that in her career in adapted sports. She wants to race and we are going to support her in that.”