Spinal cord injury doesn't stop Arizona athlete from going for the gold

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- A cycling accident almost left the Valley woman you're about to meet paralyzed. But with her determination and medical technology, she hopes to make a run for the gold.

“I was involved with tennis, swimming, dance, basketball,” said Cristina Van Driel. “I even started riding horses at the age of 10.”

Sports have always been a part of Van Driel's life. But her active lifestyle came to a screeching halt after a cycling accident in Wisconsin twelve years ago.

"A 16-year-old driver was changing a CD and speeding and she hit me from behind at 50 mph,” Van Driel said. “I remember hearing my tire explode and then everything went completely dark.”

Van Driel suffered multiple injuries including head trauma and a broken back.

“I looked at the doctor and I said, ‘I can't feel my legs’,” Van Driel continued.

She would eventually walk again. But her road to recovery hasn't been easy.
 
“I wasn't going to let something like that stop me from living the life I wanted to,” Van Driel said.

The life of a competitive runner, but after competing in several half and full marathons, Van Driel’s pain finally became too much.
 
“We finally realized surgery was the next step,” Van Driel said.
 
The 33-year-old turned to Barrow Neurological Institute two years ago. She’s had a total of three surgeries.

“What she had here was a chronic non-healed fracture in the back of her spine and it was compressing on her nerve roots,” said Dr. Randall Porter, neurosurgeon at the Institute.

Porter along with other surgeons inserted screws, rods and plates to hold her spine together.
 
“Most people will take a year off after that kind of surgery, but she had run her first half marathon, five months after her first surgery,” Porter said.

A sign Van Driel feels better. She recently ran 26.2 miles in Boston and now has her sights set on the 2016 Olympic trials in marathon.
 
“I don't want to be remembered as a runner,” Van Driel said. “I want to be remembered as someone that's inspired someone to overcome adversity.

For more information, log onto www.barrow50.org