NH swimmer bringing home gold

New Hampshire Sunday News
September 08. 2012 9:00PM
Victoria Arlen of Exeter holds the gold medal she received for winning the women's 100-meter freestyle - S6 final at the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Saturday. (REUTERS)
Teenager Victoria Arlen of Exeter set a world record Saturday on her way to winning a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics Games in London.

Now she has five good reasons - four medals and the record - for missing the first two weeks of classes at Exeter High School.

After equaling her own world record of 1 minute, 14.74 seconds earlier Saturday, Arlen posted a time of 1:13.33 in the finals of the women's 100-meter freestyle at the S6 level, which falls nearly midpoint on the scale that measures the severity of swimmers' physical impairments.

Arlen, who turns 18 this month, overcame a neurological illness that nearly killed her and had her eligibility for the games challenged.

'It has been a really tough journey to get here, and to get three silvers already was way more than I expected,' Arlen told The Telegraph of London. 'But this was the last race, and I always say, 'Last one, fast one,' and I wanted to go all out and shoot for the gold, and that is what I did.'

Leading up to Saturday, Arlen had captured silver medals in the 50 freestyle S6, 400 freestyle S6 and 4-by-100 freestyle relay, setting U.S. records in both of her individual events. Winning the gold was a thrill.

'It is really hard to describe. It is almost like being in shock. I am so happy I can't wait to share it with everyone who has supported me,' she told the newspaper.

'This is my first international meeting. I have only been racing for eight months. I have just been thrown into it, so this was my first taste of this competition,' she said.

'I came close to losing my life, so whatever happened here, it is a blessing to complete the journey. I thank God for it. I haven't seen my family yet, but we are all going to be crying pretty soon,' Arlen said.

As an 11-year-old active in sports and dance, Arlen woke up one morning and found that her legs wouldn't support here. Two weeks later, she was paralyzed from the waist down. She soon began losing the ability to think, talk and eat. She slipped into a vegetative state soon thereafter; doctors weren't sure whether she would survive.

Three years later, doctor diagnosed her with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of the spinal cord. Through treatment, she regained function in her upper body, but she was paralyzed from the waist down.

Following her success in London, the Exeter senior plans to visit relatives in Scotland before returning to school, where the principal already has promised a pep rally.

Kate Miller, an Exeter Regional Cooperative School Board member, said Arlen's performance will rank among the highest ever among Exeter High students.

'That is absolutely phenomenal news,' Miller said of Arlen's swimming milestone.

Miller expects high school Principal Sean Kiley 'will use her as an example of someone who can be a great inspiration for students with challenges.'

'I am sure we will be asking her to come to the school board for our congratulations at our next meeting,' Miller said.

Asked whether Arlen had a legitimate reason to miss two weeks of school, Miller said: 'It's not my place to give her a pass or not, but I would say folks will consider this to be a good excuse.'

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Mike Cousineau may be reached at mcousineau@unionleader.com.

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