A New Hampshire teen paralyzed from the waist down traveled all the way to the Paralympic Swimming World Championship in Montreal this week, only to find out that a committee had disqualified her.
Why? Because due to the nature of her paralysis, they believe she could someday get better and she might not have “a permanent impairment,” according to the International Paralympic Committee.
Victoria Arlen became unable to move her legs at age 11 after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that put her in a coma for two years, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Undeterred, Alren went on to become a swimmer, winning gold at the 2012 Paralympics in London and setting a world record in the 100-metre freestyle.
But with the IPC’s ruling on Arlen’s condition, she might never compete in a paralymic event again.
CBC reported IPC Director of Media and Communications, Craig Spence, saying there’s “no question that Victoria has an impairment at the moment,” but the committee found no “conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment.”
CBC pointed out that the permanency of Arlen’s impairment was also called into question before the London games, which resulted in the IPC requesting medical documentation for investigation. Experts reviewing her records stated that Alren’s paralysis could be temporary.
A medical report from Dr. Michael Levy of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that was submitted to the IPC suggested that if Arlen were to get years of physical therapy, she might be able to walk again.
“It will take many months to years to get Ms. Arlen back on her feet. I did not mean to imply that Ms. Arlen would be able to walk quickly,” Levy wrote. “Please do not misconstrue my plan as a statement of permanence of her disability.”
“What kills me is their people have no experience with my daughter’s disease and have given an opinion. They’ve got every disability in this organization, but this is discrimination,” Arlen’s father, Larry, told ABC News of the decision. “It’s crazy.”
How does Alren herself feel?
“I am disabled, and that won’t change in the near future,” she said in a statement about the decision. “I feel numb and completely shocked with the turn of events.”
“Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad,” Arlen continued, according to CBC. “What message are we giving the world when we don’t encourage hope for disabled individuals?”
Some disagree with the IPC’s decision to only allow people with known permanent impairments to compete. CBC reported that Alren’s coach of two years, John Ogden, said technological advancements could make many impairments only temporary in the future.
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan is pulling for the teen as well.
“Denying Victoria the opportunity to compete in an event for which she has trained diligently, and at the last possible moment, is unconscionable and patently unfair,” Hassan wrote in a letter to the IPC, according to ABC.
Spence with the IPC said the stringent rule is “pretty much set in stone.”
Watch WMUR’s report about the decision, in which Alren said “I am being penalized for having hope”: