Now out of wheelchair, NH Paralympian Victoria Arlen to compete on 'Dancing With the Stars'

Union Leader Correspondent
September 06. 2017 8:40PM
Victoria Arlen and Valentin “Val” Chmerkovskiy will compete as dancing partners when “Dancing With the Stars” returns on Sept. 18. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

VICTORIA ARLEN “... never in a million years did I imagine it would really happen”

EXETER -- Paralympic gold medalist and ESPN sports reporter Victoria Arlen will take the stage to show off her moves in ABC's hit show "Dancing With the Stars," the network announced Wednesday.

Arlen, who learned to walk again after beating debilitating conditions that forced her into a wheelchair for 10 years, will pair with two-time Mirrorball champion Valentin "Val" Chmerkovskiy when the series returns Sept. 18.

The 22-year-old swimmer turned dancing contestant, who took home a gold and three silver medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, grew up in Hampstead before moving to Exeter and attending Exeter High School.

"I'm incredibly honored and excited for this opportunity," Arlen said in a news release. "When I was 10 years old, I told my mom I was going to be on ‘Dancing With the Stars,' but I could not have realized the journey that would take place starting the following year."

A competitive swimmer as a child, Arlen was 11 when she was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, two rare conditions that stole her voice and left her paralyzed from the waist down. She was in a vegetative state for four years, and just when it seemed she might lose her battle, Arlen began to rebound, eventually relearning daily tasks.

In 2013, after working her way to Paralympic gold in 2012, she was ruled ineligible for future competition because of the prospect that she could ultimately overcome her disability.

In 2015, she became a sports reporter for ESPN — at age 21, its youngest ever on-air personality. Arlen was still in a wheelchair when she launched her ESPN career but soon began to walk again.

Arlen recalled watching "Dancing With the Stars" while battling her illness. Her parents would turn on the TV so she could watch during her four years in the vegetative state. She remembered a time when she watched between seizures while hospitalized.

"I was trying to see the show, and see the dresses, and see who was dancing, knowing it was something that I'd dreamed about. And I feel when you're going through something so bad and so horrific that you have to find these goals to keep you looking forward instead of at the current situation with which you're battling. There was always this kind of underlying motivator but never in a million years did I imagine it would really happen — it's pretty surreal to be embarking on this now," she said in the ESPN news release.

In addition to her role at ESPN, Arlen is a motivational speaker, actress and model. Arlen's autobiography, titled "Locked In," will be published in 2018.

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