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Exeter swimmer 'heartbroken' by ban from world meet

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 10. 2013 8:49PM

Victoria Arlen shows off one of her medals during the London 2012 Paralympic Games last year. (Paul Cunningham-US PRESSWIRE)

Victoria Arlen, the New Hampshire swimmer ruled ineligible to compete in the paralympic world championships beginning Monday in Montreal, said in a statement she is "heartbroken" over the decision.

"I feel numb and completely shocked with the turn of events," she said. "The definite reasons given to make the ineligible decision come to pass were not clear and do not seem fair."

Her father, Larry Arlen, describes his daughter as "distraught" and "crushed" over the decision by the sport's world governing body and accused the International Paralympic Committee of trying to keep his daughter from competing against a British swimmer, Eleanor Simmonds, in the world championships.

Arlen and Simmonds competed in the Paralympic Games in London last year. Arlen set a world record in winning a gold medal in one event and was awarded the silver medal in three events.

Arlen said that this year, Victoria's qualifying times had been superior.

"I have a little girl sitting at home now who trained ... to compete and potentially could have won three gold medals," Larry Arlen said. "I want her to swim; it's killing her."

Victoria Arlen was struck with the rare neurological disorder transverse myelitis when she was 11 years old. The disease put her in a coma for two years and left her unable to use her legs. She taught herself to swim without using her legs.

At the Paralympics in London, Arlen was told to re-establish her eligibility in 2013.

A report prepared by Dr. Michael Levy of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found her disabled.

But Levy held out hope that science, therapy and the resolve that made her a world-class athlete might someday restore mobility to the legs Arlen has been unable to use for more than seven years.

That hope doomed Arlen as a competitor in Montreal, as a five-member IPC panel ruled it meant her medical records "failed to prove conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment."

An appeals board upheld the ruling.

"The only thing the panel reviews is, did they follow the rules and the process," said Charles Huebner, chief of paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

An additional report from Levy explaining his finding did not alter the IPC decision.

Larry Arlen said his daughter was giving strong consideration to retiring this year, to concentrate on acting and her plans to major in drama at college.

The IPC decision was condemned by New Hampshire's U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen.

Her father said the family feels helpless.

"My heart has been ripped out," he said. "I have the same feeling right now as when my daughter was in the ICU and I couldn't help her. That's how I feel today."

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