Paralympics Bans Paralyzed Swimmer Because She Might Walk Again

Victoria Arlen took the sport of Paralympic swimming to new heights. The 18-year-old has trained seven days a week for years to accomplish at the 2013 Montreal International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships what most would consider an impossible dream–taking four medals and breaking her own record in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Now, the committee in charge has banned her from competing, on the very unlikely basis that she may someday walk again.

Arlen was only 11 years old when she had flu-like symptoms and went into a coma that lasted nearly three years. Upon waking, she was paralyzed from the waist down because of the rare viral disease, transverse myelitis, which she had acquired. While there is a slight possibility she could recover some use of her legs, most experts that have spoken out agreed that after seven years, the chances are indeed very slim that Victoria would walk again.

That slim chance was enough for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to disqualify her from this year’s Paralympic Swimming World Championships. Victoria was already in Montreal and preparing for the competition when she got the news that she was disqualified.

“Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad. What message are we giving the world when we don’t encourage hope for disabled individuals?” asked Victoria on her Facebook page after the decision was made.

“Although there is not much I can do, I just pray for answers and a reason for all of this. 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,” she added.

The International Paralympic Committee believes they followed the guidelines. The controversy began when Dr. Michael Levy of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was asked by Victoria’s dad to evaluate her to make sure she would not go into a relapse. In the report that Dr. Levy submitted following his evaluation, he wrote that if Victoria had years of physical therapy, she might be able to walk again.

The IPC asked the U.S. Olympic Committee for a more detailed analysis of Victoria’s disability.

“This was provided by USOC on 24 July, after which any reference to Victoria Arlen’s name was removed from the report and sent to five independent medical experts for their views,” IPC spokesman Lucy Dominy wrote to in an email. Their information resulted in the IPC’s decision.

The uproar has been heard around the world, and though many feel Arlen’s banning from competition was heartless and baseless, there’s one person who sees this–and other internationally debated Paralympic controversies–as signs of progress. It happens to be the president of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Phillip Craven, who says that the Paralympic movement is no longer being brushed aside as a “feel-good event for the disabled.”

“We are about sport. We are not about disability,” Craven said in a recent interview.

With fighting in hockey, doping in baseball, and performance-enhancing full-body swimsuits in question, elite sport has its share of controversy. The fact that Arlen’s controversy has garnered mainstream attention means that Paralympic sport is now being taken seriously, and its goal is to “enable Paralympic athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.”

A measure of Paralympic success is clear in the controversy surrounding Victoria Arlen. What do YOU think should have been the committee’s decision? The videos below show Victoria Arlen in action and her endeavors as a motivational speaker.


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