A paralysed cyclist may represent her country in the Olympics after a bike crash gave her back the use of her legs.
Monique van der Vorst was paralysed from the waist down and had been confined to a wheelchair for 13 years.
Powering a bike with her hands, she had represented the Netherlands at the Paralympic Games and won two silver medals.
But last year, after being knocked off her bike, her feet started to tingle and within months she was able to walk again in a recovery that has baffled doctors.
She now competes on a standard bicycle and was this week given one of 11 places on a top women's professional cycling team. Her dream is to ride in the 2016 Olympics.
Team spokesman Luuc Eisengo said: “It seems like a miracle.”
Van der Vorst, who is now 27, was a sporty child who enjoyed tennis and hockey. At 13, she had just taken up cycling when a routine ankle operation resulted in nerve damage and left one leg paralysed from the hip down. Confined to a wheelchair, she took up hand-cycling and competed nationally and internationally, winning six European and three world championship titles.
In 2008 she was hit by a car, which damaged her spinal cord and left her completely paralysed from the waist down. Later that year, she won two silver medals at the Beijing Paralympic Games.
Last year, while in her “best shape ever” and training for the 2012 Paralympics in London, she was involved in another accident, this time with another cyclist.
Her body went into spasm and she started to feel tingling on first one foot and then the other. By the end of the year, she was walking again.
She said it was “amazing” when her feet started to tingle, and added: “It is wonderful to walk again, the whole world has another perspective when you can stand up. I really enjoy every minute that I am walking.”
British experts said there was no obvious reason for Van der Vorst's recovery. Although most people with spinal cord injuries do see some improvement, it is minimal. A lucky few recover fully, but the improvement usually occurs gradually, over the first 12 to 18 months, rather than suddenly, as in Van der Vorst's case.
Dr Mark Bacon, of the charity Spinal Research, said it is impossible to know what happened.
One theory is that the 2008 accident pushed two vertebrae in her spine out of alignment, causing them to pinch or compress the spinal cord, leaving her paralysed.
Last year's accident could have released the pressure, allowing vital messages to be transmitted between the brain and legs once more - and giving her back the power of her legs.
Van der Vorst has now swapped her hand-bike for a regular model and has started racing competitively. This week she was signed by the Dutch Rabobank's women's cycling team, where she will train with some of the world's best.
She said that while she can't explain her miracle recovery, she is an “athlete in body and soul”, and added: “My dream is to participate in the Rio Olympics in 2016, that would be beautiful.”
Eisenga, the team spokesman, said: “When we met Monique, we saw an athlete with incredible willpower and the right mentality for sport. She has a really good level in cycling and we believe we can help her develop as a professional bike rider.”
Asked if she might make it to the Olympics, he said: “In sport, everything is possible.”
Team coach Jeroen Blijlevens said: “I am sure the other members of the team have a lot to learn from Monique.” - Daily Mail