Victoria Arlen was a happy, healthy child. She was a triplet, with two brothers, and she enjoyed dancing and sports. She had a bright future ahead of her until tragedy struck.
When she was 11-years-old, Victoria Arlen began to experience worrying flu symptoms. She started fainting and contracted pneumonia. Within two weeks, she was paralyzed from the waist down and her body began to shut down piece by piece. She developed severe inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and, before she knew it, her life was ruined.
Her family stood by helplessly and watched her lose her ability to walk, talk and eat. But while this may sound like the sad end to a story, it turned out to be only the beginning.
Victoria was ‘locked’ inside her own body for four years. The doctors were telling her family that she was in a vegetative state and she had little chance of pulling through. Nobody knew that Victoria could hear them the whole time; she had ‘woken up’ again mentally, but she could not move her body to communicate.
But my parents believed in me. They set up a hospital room in our house in New Hampshire, and took care of me. My three brothers — I’m a triplet and we have an older brother — talked to me and kept me in the know about what was going on outside of my room. They empowered me to fight and get stronger. They didn’t know I could hear them, but I could.
Despite the doctors declaring her as brain-dead and declaring she would stay in a vegetative state for her entire life, Victoria defied the odds. In 2010, Victoria emerged from her vegetative state. It began with moving a finger, to waving her hand, and eventually to form words again. Initially, she would eat mushy foods, but before long she ate her first steak in four years.
Despite all the incredible improvements she had made, there was one thing that hadn’t changed. She still couldn’t move her legs. The swelling from her brain and spinal cord meant that she would be paralyzed from the waist down forever.
Some people might accept their fate when told by doctors that there is no hope, but not Victoria. She was determined to walk again; she wouldn’t let her terrible twist of fate ruin her life. She wasn’t destined to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
The turning point for Victoria happened when she refound her childhood passion for swimming. Having grown up by a lake, Victoria had been a keen swimmer and part of a team at 10-years-old. While Victoria thought it would be impossible to swim again, her brothers thought otherwise.
Throwing her into the family pool, her brothers watched as Victoria got the ‘jump’ back in her life. To her surprise, she had remained a strong swimmer and she finally felt free from her wheelchair.
At 17-years-old, Victoria competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games as part of the US team and took home 3 silver medals and one gold. The water not only gave her freedom, but it also gave her confidence again.
Despite her hard-earned success, there was one thing that Victoria still longed for – the use of her legs.
(In 2013) My mother and I temporarily relocated to San Diego and lived with family so I could train every day. We realized this was the place that could help me, but we didn’t want to live hundreds of miles away from my brothers and dad. So, keeping their promise, my family decided to open the first Project Walk franchise on the East Coast. This way, I could train every day and achieve my goal, while others in my hometown could regain the hope they needed.
While specialists were skeptical about her recovery, on November 11th, 2015, Victoria took her first steps.
Six years after she ‘woke up’ and was declared brain-dead by doctors, Victoria Arlen had proven everybody wrong. She woke up every day to train for six hours, determined to reach her goal. Slowly, she started to walk again with the assistance of crutches and by March 3rd, 2016 she had got rid of them completely.
That’s not to say every day is perfect. Walking is still challenging and I still have significant impairment. I wear leg braces, follow a training program for two-to-three hours per day and on the days when my legs feel more paralyzed, I have my chair or crutches on standby. But my struggle is now less visible.
After an incredibly hard 10 years, Victoria Arlen has proved an inspiration to millions. She is living proof that there is always hope, and if you work hard and really want something, anything is possible. She defied all the odds to be where she is today. She is now a Paralympic gold medalist and a program leader for ESPN sports channel.
I didn’t do this on my own, and I am grateful for everyone who has helped me to this point. Each day, I become more comfortable with my new reality. I thought taking those steps on March 3 would be my finish line. But really, they were only the beginning.
A wise man once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Victoria Arlen is certainly proof of that. Share this incredibly inspiring story with your friends to prove that anything is possible. We love hearing your thoughts here at Happiest, so be sure to leave your comments below. 🐝