ESPN’s Victoria Arlen, who has a remarkable story of overcoming adversity that includes regaining the ability to walk after 10 years in a wheelchair, will be a contestant on the 25th season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, it was revealed today on ABC’s Good Morning America. The series returns Monday, Sept. 18, from 8-10 p.m. ET.
Arlen, a host and reporter for multiple ESPN programs and platforms, is part of an all-new cast of celebrities paired up with the show’s pro dancers to brave the dance floor in the competition. Her dancing partner is two-time Mirrorball champion Valentin “Val” Chmerkovskiy.
“I’m incredibly honored and excited for this opportunity,” said Arlen, a Paralympian gold medalist who joined ESPN in December 2015 at the age of 21, becoming one of ESPN’s youngest on-air personalities ever hired. “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.”
At 11 years old, she was diagnosed with two rare conditions; Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis. She soon lost the ability to speak, eat, walk and move; doctors believed she had little chance of survival, let alone recovery. Fighting for her life, Arlen persevered through four years of being in a vegetative state and shortly after, began the near-impossible journey to relearn everyday tasks and functions. But recover she did – when she joined ESPN, she was in a wheelchair – in early 2017, she celebrated the one-year anniversary of regaining her ability to walk.
Arlen credits Dancing With the Stars for helping during her recovery. During the four years of the vegetative state, her parents would put the program on in front of her. And she has very vivid memories of a hospital stay in which she was having violent seizures, but between the episodes she would look at the television.
“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,” she said. “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.”
As her recovery progressed, she became an accomplished motivational speaker, actress, model and competitive swimmer. In early 2012, Arlen qualified to compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games, winning a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle event in a new world record time along with three silver medals in the 50-meter, 400-meter and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. In addition, Arlen has also broken several other World, American and Pan American Records.
Her autobiography, entitled “Locked In,” will be published in 2018.
For ESPN, she has hosted SportsCenter segments and appeared on College GameDay as well as in ESPN’s coverage of the X Games, the Special Olympics World Games, the NCAA Frozen Four and more.