It's hard to keep Victoria Arlen down. It's even more difficult to keep up with her.
The 18-year-old high school senior from Exeter, New Hampshire, is already an accomplished hockey player, swimmer, actress, model and motivational speaker.
And she does it all without the use of her legs.
The 18-year-old high school senior from Exeter, New Hampshire, is already an accomplished hockey player, swimmer, model and motivational speaker, despite paralysis from the waist down. (Photo: Victoria Arlen)
In 2006, Arlen was a typical 11-year-old girl: into every sport and "always on the go," along with her three brothers -- fellow triplets, Will and Cameron, as well as older brother LJ.
One day, she woke up to find her legs had stopped working. While waiting for a diagnosis, her health eventually deteriorated to the point where she spent time in a vegetative state. In 2009, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disease that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
"[The doctors] didn't really know what my future held," she said. "I was determined to get back to my life. I had to relearn how to do everything. I had to learn how to talk, eat, move my arms. I thought my sports career was over once I got into a wheelchair. That was the hardest reality I had to face."
One day, while reading a University of New Hampshire alumni magazine, Arlen came across an article about Northeast Passage, a school program helping the disabled enjoy barrier-free recreation. They offered a competitive sled hockey team, which caught Arlen's eye.
She gave it a try, and it didn't take long for her to become engrossed in the game -- hardly a surprise, considering her family background.
"We're a huge hockey family. I took to it really quickly, and I was in love with it," Arlen said. "I'm on a team with all guys, so you can imagine how they pushed me. They took me under their wings and I was like their little sister. They made me a tougher hockey player."
Her teammates, which included service veterans, helped her develop so quickly that she made the Women's National team in 2011, just eight months after picking up the game. Of the 50 players selected to the USA Hockey Development camp, she was New Hampshire’s lone representative.
That confidence on the ice helped Arlen get back into the swimming pool, where she's earned major acclaim. In September 2011, she attended her first parameet, where she won seven gold medals, smashed an American record and qualified for the Olympic trials. Last summer at the 2012 London Paralympics, Arlen earned four medals, including a record-setting gold in the 100-meter freestyle.
"I would never have done what I did in London if it weren't for hockey. It got me over that barrier of what I thought I couldn't do because of my disability. It's given me the confidence that I can go and do anything. It's been a really positive impact on my life."
-- Victoria Arlen on overcoming paralysis to excel in athletics
Her exploits in the pool earned her national headlines, but Arlen says it’s sled hockey that helps her follow her dreams.
"I would never have done what I did in London if it weren't for hockey. It got me over that barrier of what I thought I couldn't do because of my disability," said Arlen. "It's given me the confidence that I can go and do anything. It's been a really positive impact on my life."
Arlen, whose personal motto is "face it, embrace it, defy it and conquer it," has plenty more planned. She's training for the upcoming World Championships alongside her mentor, Northeast Passage coach and two-time paralympian Taylor Chace. She's also working on her modeling and acting careers while obtaining sponsorships. A proclamation in her hometown of Exeter even declared Oct. 13 as "Victoria Arlen Day." All this and she'll be graduating from high school in the spring.
"It's only just beginning," Arlen said. "At the moment, I keep going and pushing forward. There's always going to be something positive that can come out of any negative situation."
To follow Victoria's progress, you can follow her on twitter at @arlenv1, or visit her Web site, www.victoriaarlen.com.