Love of X Games fuels ESPN reporter Arlen’s remarkable journey from paralysis
EDITOR’S NOTE: ESPN features reporter Victoria Arlen returns to cover X Games Aspen this week. When she reported from Aspen last winter, Arlen still was in the midst of recovering the use of her legs; it marked another juncture in her incredible 10-year journey (see timeline below) back from paralysis and a vegetative state. This spring, she expects to celebrate the one-year anniversary of regaining her ability to walk. Arlen, 22, recently landed a major book deal with Howard, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Her autobiography, entitled “Locked In,” will be published in 2018. In the video above and this essay, the 2012 London Paralympic Games swimming champion explains how she has remained determined and what role the X Games played in helping her remarkable recovery.
ASPEN, Colo. – Almost exactly seven years ago I was waking up from a vegetative state and a long, hard-fought, four-year battle. Many things were uncertain: Will I ever talk again, walk again and be “normal?”
I had suffered severe brain and spinal chord inflammation as a result of Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis. Doctors had not given me a hopeful prognosis, and it was more than likely that I would not recover.
I remember very clearly that January of 2010, being glued to the television and watching the Winter X Games in Aspen and making a promise to myself, “One day I’m going to be there.”
This was a far-out dream but something I had always kept in the back of my mind as I slowly began to recover and learn how to live again.
Many things had been taken away from me, but one thing that nobody could ever take away was my love of sports. Growing up with three brothers who were obsessed with sports I quickly caught the bug. My big brother LJ was always snowboarding, snowmobiling and dirt biking, as he loved and still loves action sports. Wanting to be cool and keep up with not only my older brother but my triplet brothers – I am one of the triplets – as well, I would watch the X Games, and soon I was hooked.
Fast forward to six years later and guess who was not only standing on her own two feet at the base of the Superpipe at X Games Aspen 2016 but working for ESPN? Me.
This was a big moment for me in many ways but specifically because just a month prior I had finally gotten back on my feet after spending nearly 10 years in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down.
I am beyond grateful to be a part of the X Games family and once again have the chance to be in Aspen. To say I love my job would be an understatement. And I still find it crazy and hard to believe that just last year I learned how to walk again and this year I’m going try to learn how to snowboard.
X Games to me is a huge reminder of what’s possible. No matter where you are or how hopeless and impossible things may seem, never lose hope and always believe.
Like many of these athletes competing at X Games, we’ve all been told at some point in our lives that the dream we wanted to achieve was “impossible.” But guess what? It is possible. So, whatever you are going through, keep going, keep dreaming, keep believing and never stop challenging what seems impossible.
Samantha Baron produced the video above.
ESPN…..What A Year It's Been. So Excited For This Next Year Of ESPN Adventures ✌🏼️🌎🎬 pic.twitter.com/4lrYItiKCB
— Victoria Arlen (@Arlenv1) January 14, 2017
- June 2006: At age 11, I experience the onset of paralysis, a result of Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.
- July 2006: I begin losing the ability to eat, talk, move and function.
- August 2006: My “dark period” begins. I have no memory from this point until January 2009.
- January 2009: My brain and thoughts and function “wake up” but I realize quickly that I am “locked in” my own body.
- December 2010: I regain the ability to blink and begin a long journey back. Relearning how to talk, move, write, eat and function normally. I also learn that I must face life in a wheelchair.
- August 2010: My triplet brothers strap a life jacket on me and throw me in the water. I begin to learn how to swim without the use of my legs.
- September 2010: I return to school for the first time in five years. I advance from fifth grader to sophomore.
- June 2012: I qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games as a swimmer.
- Aug.-Sept. 2012: I swim in the London Paralympic Games and win a gold and three silver medals.
- July 2013: I “rolled” the red carpet at the ESPYs and was nominated for “Best Female Athlete with a Disability.”
- Oct. 2013: I fly out to California to begin training at Project Walk which is a world renowned paralysis recovery center.
- March 2014: I visit ESPN to speak at a corporate event. I go on a tour and have the chance to watch a live taping of SportsCenter and I am hooked. I begin job shadowing at ESPN.
- Jan. 2015: My family opens the first Project Walk recovery center on the East Coast. This gives me the opportunity to train five days a week for 4-to-5 hours a day.
- April 2015: I’m given my first official ESPN assignment: I become a reporter for the Special Olympic World Games in LA.
- July 2015: On my first day on the job, I interview the one-and-only Michael Phelps. He has always been a swimmer I’ve admired.
- Nov. 2015: I begin to initiate small steps at Project Walk.
- Dec. 2015: I ditch the wheelchair and begin to get around using hot pink crutches and neon-colored leg braces. At the age of 21, I became one of the youngest on-air talents hired by ESPN.
- Jan. 2016: I make my first X Games Aspen appearance. It’s my first event/day on the job since signing my ESPN contract and officially becoming an ESPN employee. I would then go on to appear on shows and cover events like College GameDay, Frozen Four, The Invictus Games, X Games Austin and the ESPYs Countdown Show.
- March 2016: I start to be able to walk independently without crutches.
- May 2016: I team up with ESPN senior writer Alyssa Roenigk and we write an essay for espnW about my journey and I officially announce that I am back on my feet.
- July 2016: I walked the red carpet at the ESPYs and was a part of the ESPYs Countdown Show.
- Aug. 2016: I ditch my leg braces and finally have ankle control and can wear any kind of shoes I want.
- Dec. 2016: I officially make my SportsCenter debut reporting updates on ESPNEWS.