Monique van der Vorst has completed a remarkable transformation — from Paralympic athlete to road racing cyclist with a top professional team.
The 27-year-old Dutch athlete has been signed by the Rabobank women's team, meaning the former wheelchair and handcycle racer will now line up against elite able-bodied riders.
Van der Vorst lost the use of her legs as a young teenager following ankle surgery. Her drive and determination quickly saw her winning handcycle races and earned her two silver medals in the handcycling road race and time trial at the Beijing Paralympics.
Last year, after a crash in training, she began getting the feeling back in her legs and eventually managed to walk again.
A coach loaned her a bike as Van der Vorst continued her rehabilitation and now she is joining the likes of Marianne Vos — silver medallist in the road race at the world championships in September — in the Rabo team.
Van der Vorst did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday. In an interview posted on the Rabobank website, she said she was looking forward to the challenge of road racing, but knows it will be tough.
"I have to begin at the bottom," she said. "My goal for this year is to keep up with the peleton and finish an international race in the peleton. I will start where all riders start — at the bottom — and I hope to make it to the top."
Team boss Jeroen Blijlevens said Van der Vorst still has much to learn, but believes her presence in the team will motivate the other riders.
"She has the right mentality, willpower. She has proved that in her career in adapted sports," Blijlevens said. "She wants to race and we are going to support her in that."