U.S. paralympian 'heartbroken' after disability ruled non-permanent
U.S. swimmer Victoria Arlen reacts after setting a new Paralympic record in a women's 100-meter freestyle S6 heat at the 2012 Paralympics games in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013 9:19AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 14, 2013 12:51PM EDT
A gold-medal winning Paralympic athlete, who was set to compete this week in Montreal for the Paralympic World Swimming Championships, is leaving the pool disappointed – not because she wasn't able to repeat her success in the water, but because she was deemed not permanently disabled enough, according to the International Paralympic Committee.
In a controversial ruling released earlier this week, the IPC barred U.S. Paralympic record-holder Victoria Arlen from competing in any future competitions as a disabled swimmer because her disability is considered non-permanent.
In a Facebook post on Monday, the 18-year-old swimmer said she is "going away for a few days to have some 'me' time" after being told she wasn’t allowed to compete in Montreal. The event runs throughout this week.
"I'm so heartbroken with what happened. I feel numb and completely shocked with the turn of events," Arlen, who was already in Montreal when she was informed of the IPC's decision, wrote in an earlier 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."
Arlen was paralyzed from the waist down seven years ago after a rare neurological disorder called transverse myelitis attacked her spinal cord, leaving her in a coma for nearly two years.
The teen, who also moonlights as a model, now uses a wheelchair. But that didn't stop her from reaching her dreams.
Arlen resumed competitive swimming at age 16 and in 2012, she made a splash at the Paralympic Games in London, capturing a gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle and setting a world record.
"Not having the use of my legs has made things challenging, but what I have gone through has taught me perseverance and patience," explains Arlen on her website. "Obstacles are obstacles – whether it's a wheelchair or any other circumstances that stands between you and your dream."
The dream of walking again, however, is not something Arlen believes will happen. But recovery is possible for some people who’ve been hit with transverse myelitis.
"As it stands today unfortunately, I am disabled and that won't change in the near future," says Arlen on her Facebook page. "As much as I'd like it to, it is not a reality."
Arlen goes on to say that the IPC's last-minute decision is "ridiculous" -- something with which the governor of New Hampshire also agrees.
In a letter sent to the IPC, Gov. Maggie Hassan described the ruling as "unconscionably and patently unfair."
"Victoria is precisely the type of athlete the International Paralympic Committee should be working to promote and support, a shining example that world of opportunity exists for all those living with a disability," Hassan says.
But despite being barred from all future IPC hosted events, Arlen said she continues to support the organization and hopes the same situation doesn't happen again to another athlete.
"I continue to have the utmost respect for the Paralympic movement and the IPC and hope that this will not happen to anyone else."