Paralympic swimmer banned from competition because of hope she could walk again

Published: Friday, Aug. 16 2013 12:50 p.m. MDT

Victoria Arlen is a Paralympic gold medalist that seems to have nothing but success in her future, but this week she was told that she is no longer allowed to compete in the Paralympic organization.

Victoria Arlen's Facebook account

Victoria Arlen is a paralympic gold medalist, but this week the International Paralympic Committee told her she is no longer allowed to compete in the organization.

The 18-year-old champion swimmer has been paralyzed from her waist down since she was 11 and diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that attacks nerves in the spine.

According to statements released by the International Paralympic Committee, Arlen was disqualified because her condition is no longer viewed as permanent as medical experts found there may be hope for the teen to walk again.

Although her limitations initially came as a shock, for the past seven years Arlen hasn't let it hold her back. The young athlete took to the pool and has since won four medals, including gold, and broke her own record at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

That's why it was a surprise to Arlen and her family this week when the IPC said she is not eligible to compete in the Paralympic World Swimming Championships, after she had traveled to Montreal for the event.

"I'm so heartbroken with what has happened. I feel numb and completely shocked with the turn of events," Arlen wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. "To have trained so hard this past year and come so far only to be humiliated and targeted by the IPC for reasons unknown baffles me. Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad."

The National Post reported that Arlen's eligibility had been cleared in years past, but after the 2012 London Paralympics the IPC requested a more in-depth medical report. IPC spokesman Craig Spence announced that Arlen's medical records had been reviewed by five medical experts who all separately stated her condition could not be referred to as permanent.

Arlen is known for being positive about her circumstances, running a campaign called "Rock your disability." But the news that she could no longer compete has been devastating for the young athlete.

"To be told I'm ineligible only days before World Championships is beyond ridiculous," she wrote online. "Being up in Montreal only to have to head home is devastating. The definite reasons given to make the ineligible decision come to pass were not clear and do not seem fair."

While Arlen is uncertain about the details of the decision, she concluded her statement with gratitude for what she has been able to do and hope that things will work out.

"Although there is not much I can do, I just pray for answers and a reason for all of this," Arlen wrote. "Everything does happen for a reason and sometimes these reasons are hard to fathom and explain. I continue to have the utmost respect for the Paralympic movement and the IPC and hope that this will not happen to anyone else. Nobody should have to go through this."

Others have rallied together for Arlen, including some New Hampshire politicians such as Gov. Maggie Hassan.

"Denying Victoria the opportunity to compete in an event for which she has trained diligently, and at the last possible moment, is unconscionable and patently unfair," Hassan wrote in a letter to the IPC.

"Moreover, the basis for ruling Victoria ineligible — the possibility that she might one day be able to resume use of her legs — is nothing short of disgraceful, undermining the very values of courage, inspiration, determination and equality that the International Paralympic Committee aims to promote."

Email: spetersen@deseretnews.com

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