THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- 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 rider signed with the Rabobank women's team, meaning the former wheelchair and handcycle racer will now line up against elite able-bodied cyclists.
"My development has been very quick. I never could have imagined one year ago I would be here," Van der Vorst told The Associated Press. "All the training I did in the last 10 years gives me a good base."
Van der Vorst lost the use of her legs as a young teenager following ankle surgery. But she didn't lose her drive and determination. She won two silver medals in the handcycling road race and time trial at the Beijing Paralympics.
Last year, after a crash during training, she began getting the feeling back in her legs and eventually managed to walk again.
A coach lent her a bike as Van der Vorst continued her rehabilitation. Now she joins the likes of Marianne Vos – silver medalist in the road race at the world championships in September – on the Rabo team.
"Cycling with arms or legs, tactics, corners are almost the same," Van der Vorst said.
Van der Vorst said her initial goal is to keep pace with the main pack, but she also has her sights on the road race at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"That is my ultimate goal," Van der Vorst told The Associated Press.
Rabobank team manager Jeroen Blijlevens said Van der Vorst still has much to learn, but believes her presence on the team will motivate 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."