By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
B.J. Bedford-Miller had a remarkable collegiate career at the University of Texas, and then barely missed out on making the 1996 Olympic Team. She became close to Amy Van Dyken training with her in Colorado Springs, and then made the team and won gold with Amy at the 2000 Olympic Games. She is in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she did graduate work – Amy’s alma mater – and is planning to go see her brave hero next week where Amy is currently rehabbing. Bedford-Miller talks about that, and what she expects from Amy in the future, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Are you in contact with Amy?
B.J.: Amy and I have traded a lot of texts.
2. What was your initial reaction when you saw the news?
B.J.: I was really scared for Amy. I cried. Mostly because I couldn’t see her – I couldn’t go be with her.
3. It seems like she’s as worried about those concerned for her as she is for herself, doesn’t it?
B.J.: She goes and breaks her back and has this horrible accident and what’s happening is she is the one taking care of all her friends. That’s her way of saying I am okay. It shows what an amazing person she is.
4. How amazing has this woman done with her life post-swimming career?
B.J.: More than that, all of this since the accident, it shows the person she has become, how she grew up in this sport and what she has become.
5. What did you think when you heard about her coherence and poise after the accident, talking to her husband, Tom Rouen, and making sure she expressed all her thoughts in case the worst happened?
B.J.: You know, when I saw that interview I had to pull over. I saw it at work at lunch. I have an hour drive home, I had to pull over two or three time because I didn’t think I could drive, just thinking about having that conversation – this is it, I love you. You should go on and date.
6. She wasn’t about to stop staying with it though, was she?
B.J.: You know, Amy has never quit. Amy was told she had to swim because she couldn’t breathe right when she was a child. How did that turn out? Olympic gold.
7. So at her weakest after the accident, she is all strength, how is that even possible?
B.J.: Amy turns circumstances where other people would fail, into ammunition to keep fighting in her gut. I have been absolutely blown away by how she’s handled this.
8. She was so upbeat, though understandably emotional at times, in the Today show interview – what did that show you?
B.J.: That gave me an understanding for why she keeps smiling. You have been given your life back, so she realizes she is thankful for that – she knows she is fortunate to be alive. She gets to see her husband and family still. The seriousness of it – that she lost use of her legs – she will deal with that. But she has her life, so she knows she’ll live to fight another day.
9. Tom Rouen and I go back to his CSU days, before he transferred to CU and then had a great career with the Denver Broncos. Hanging out with them in Denver years ago, I was amazed at how well he “got” Amy – and now this, how good of a match are they?
B.J.: It speaks volumes to the love and the bond that they have. She chose the right person, and so did he. If ever there were any questions – and I don’t think there were – that gives you faith in true love. And if that doesn’t, I don’t know what would.
10. You’ve learned a lot about what she’s facing, anything to share?
B.J.: A friend of mine who is a physician brought me a study that measured the “happiness factor” for people who won lottery and people who had suffered spinal cord injuries a year after the events. There was significant difference in the results that showed after a year, people who were injured were actually happier than the lottery winners. You have something bad like that happen, and you find out who loves you. You win the lottery, and people are coming out of the woodwork wanting something from you. When something awful happens, people come out with love. It’s an amazing dichotomy.
11. Amy literally has come out glowing and making all of us feel better – she won’t let it stop her, will she?
B.J.: I think that Amy, first of all, has always been incredibly smart. She recognizes opportunity where people see only darkness. Amy is poised to be in a position to speak for an entire universe of people who might sometimes feel invisible. There is no one in this world who could make Amy invisible. Amy can speak for this entire world of amazing people, and give them even more of a voice.
12. Maybe even in the pool?
B.J.: She’s already said she’s probably coming back to swimming. To win Olympic gold and then Paralymic gold, how great would that be? The platform she can stand on with or without the use of her legs. That gets me excited. Think about Christopher Reeve, though he was paralyzed from the neck down. There are forces in this world, and Amy is one of them. She is going to have a really awesome journey in front of her.
13. Staying in such phenomenal shape post-career, how important is that looking back for her?
B.J.: She’s been on this fitness journey and done a ton of exercise. Fitness has been something she has paid great attention to. We were texting and she said she was three weeks ahead of schedule at (the rehabilitation place in northern Colorado) Craig – and this was two weeks after the accident! She’s blowing away the goals they set for her.
14. And with a smile for everyone worried about her, how great is that?
B.J.: She’s epitomized grace in the face of incredible odds.
15. You have been friends with her through such a key time in both of your lives, that is a special bond isn’t it?
B.J.: Amy and I have gone through everything. We’ve been on teams National Teams together, been in each other’s lives – it has run the gamut. It’s hard to see something like that happen to someone you care about. But at the same time, looking at what’s possible for her gives me so much hope in my heart.
16. Those two golds she won in Sydney, how fitting was that after four golds in Atlanta?
B.J.: She was prelim of the medley I was on – there was also Dara (Torres), Megan (Jendrick) and Jenny (Thompson). We had a lot of drama on that team, so that wasn’t an easy week. But Amy was fierce. She was a strong competitor, a fighter. I’d rather have her on my relay than compete against her. I always felt bad for other countries because when Amy would finish, she was so tough! And she produced two more gold medals.
17. When Amy counseled you and helped you get back on track leading up to 2000 after the disappointment of 1996 for you, how big was that?
B.J.: One thing I will definitely say about Amy is she recognizes who people are, what they can do, and what their potential is. Amy knew I wasn’t at my potential, that I was doing things to screw up my swimming. “It doesn’t serve anyone here,” she told me. “It doesn’t serve you. Grow up.” That was a tough thing to hear. We weren’t friends for a while (laughs) after that. But then, yeah, I thought, she’s probably right. And yes, she was right. We became friends after that. But it took me growing up. And she had to (laughs) stop being mad at me! We got through that, and after you get through something like that, you get to be friends – forever.
18. What about her performance at the 1996 Games in Atlanta?
B.J.: Anyone who wins the 50 free at the Olympics or World Championships is all clutch. The 50 free is the most chance-filled race there is – not because you don’t train for it – but it comes down to who wants it the most. Amy wanted it the most; there was no way she wasn’t going to win. To be able to do that in not just one event, not just two – we’re getting into Lebron James (laughs) goals here – not just three, not just four, not just five, but six Olympic gold medals. That’s the epitome of clutch. Even today, this very day, I’d want her on my relay, because no matter the odds, she’d find a way to get it done.
19. She really matured from 1996 to 2000, yet kept that intense mental focus, didn’t see?
B.J.: She still had the killer instinct, and was still the fighter. I wasn’t on the team with her in 1996, but the person she had become was different in 2000. For Sydney she was one of the older ones on the team, and with Dara, me, Jenny and Amy – all of us except Dara had birthdays within a few months of each other – we had a lot of leadership. The leadership on that team was very different than other teams because there was such a deep wisdom in the people we had on that team, and Amy was a big part of that.
20. So you are going down to Craig to see her next week – can you tell her all how much we care about her?
B.J.: I will, and even though she knows that, she’ll appreciate hearing that. If there’s anything I can support her in, as far as the new world she’s going to be lighting up, I’m really looking forward to help however I can. Mostly right now, I am excited for the pain to stop for her – she broke some ribs, her back and there has been a lot of pain. But once that is gone and Amy is firing on all cylinders, I will be ready to step in and help as much as she wants. I think she is headed into something brand new – and we don’t know what it is yet, but you can bet Amy does. She has been so optimistic and filled with love on social media. She’s shown the world what this spinal cord injury looks like with humility, grace, and while looking like a million bucks! She’s opening the world’s eyes to what it’s like to go through something like this. She will never lose her desire to excel. There’s never been a ceiling on what Amy can accomplish. And I know there isn’t one now, either. So I just cannot wait to see what she can do.