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Paralympian eyes Olympic glory after "miracle" crash

By Liza Jansen

(Reuters) - UTRECHT, The Netherlands, December 8 (Reuters) - Paralympic silver medalist Monique van der Vorst has miraculously become an able-bodied Olympic hopeful after a crash reversed her paralysis.

Paralyzed from the hip down since she was 13, the 27-year-old handcyclist, who has just signed with the Rabobank women's professional cycling team to compete as a top-class able-bodied athlete, was hit by a bicycle last year while training in her wheelchair for the 2012 London Paralympics.

While recovering from the trauma, van der Vorst's feet started to tingle and miraculously she began to move them again. From that point on she spent months in the hospital and in the rehabilitation centre trying to regain the use of her legs.

She told Reuters that when she took her first steps again in July 2010, she felt just like a child learning to walk.

"I wanted to jump in the air for joy," van der Vorst said this week, and recalled how great and surprising it was to look at herself standing in front of a mirror.

Doctors have no explanation for her amazing recovery. Some believe the trauma of her last accident may have jolted her body back into activity.

But the realities of her new-found joy also put an immediate end to a successful athletic career.

"Although walking is the best thing you could do in life, I immediately missed the sport, the people and the challenges," van der Vorst said.

Rehabilitation and physiotherapy with an athletic focus strengthened her and as soon as she sat on a bike she again wanted to give it a try.

"The spirit is in my body," she said.

Despite a near-crash the first time she cautiously climbed aboard a racing bicycle for able-bodied athletes, van der Vorst got back on her bike and carried on to complete a painful and slow 30 km training route and has not looked back since.

Although she is not on the same cycling level as the other women on the Rabobank cycling team, her willpower is enormous and the team is confident van der Vorst will quickly catch up.

When you consider van der Vorst won two silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, was elected Dutch disabled athlete of the year in 2009, was the first handcycle athlete to win the 2009 Ironman world championship in Hawaii, her goal of riding in the 2016 Rio Olympics does not appear unrealistic.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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