Exclusive: Former Paralympian and DWTS contestant Victoria Arlen tells her inspiring story in her new book 'Locked In'

In her own words, Victoria Arlen shares her inspiring story of pain, struggle and what it was like getting back to on her feet after four years of being 'Locked In'


                            Exclusive: Former Paralympian and DWTS contestant Victoria Arlen tells her inspiring story in her new book 'Locked In'

Victoria Arlen's story is one for the books. The former Paralympian swimmer developed two rare conditions as a child that left her locked inside her body. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and the two conditions left her without the ability to speak, eat, walk or move. An active girl, she found herself in a vegetative state with little hope for survival let alone recovery. She spent four years in this state, fighting her illness from the inside out, ultimately emerging victorious. 

Victoria Arlen attends Heroes at the ESPYS at City Market Social House on July 17, 2018, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)
Victoria Arlen attends Heroes at the ESPYS at City Market Social House on July 17, 2018, in Los Angeles, California (Getty Images)

She could hear everything that was going on - but she just couldn't move a muscle. After those excruciatingly difficult four years, Arlen decided to teach herself how to speak, eat and move once again. In 2012, she went on to participate in the Summer Paralympics US swimming trials and the rest is history.

Arlen qualified for the Summer Paralympic Sheld in London the same year, as a member of Team USA. In London, she didn't just win over a personal victory - she earned four medals for her country, one gold, and three silver. By 2016, she had taught herself how to walk again. This was nearly after 10 years of being paralyzed from the waist down. Just a year later, she also competed in 'Dancing with the Stars' season 25 and waltzed into the hearts of the audience with dance partner Valentin Chmerkovskiy. She finished fifth in the competition. 

Victoria has been very outspoken about her journey to find her footing again and has inspired many to never give up. In her personal memoir 'Locked in', Victoria shares her never-before-published story talking about the pain, the struggle, the fight to live and thrive, and most importantly, her faith that carried her through. She spoke to MEAWW about her new book and what she wants readers to take away from it. 

What prompted you to write 'Locked In'? 

I wanted to share my story in my own words. There have been so many different versions of my story and I wanted to set the record straight. I was terrified to finally share all that I went through but thanks to my family, friends, and faith, I found the courage to do so. It was incredibly cathartic and it felt as if the world was lifted off my shoulders and I could finally let go. 

The book is as raw as it can possibly be and it’s different in that aspect from the times you’ve told your story before.

(Simon and Schuster)
(Simon and Schuster)

My story has been shared before in interpretations made by various reporters and news outlets. I knew I wanted to share my entire story but I had to first deal with the severe PTSD that I was experiencing. Only when I finally cried after 11 years was I able to have the courage to share my entire story. As you can see, it was a very traumatic journey and before I could share it with the world I had to finally process it myself. 

Your family was the rock at the time. How did those painful years affect your relationship with the outside world? 

It felt as if I was sitting on the sidelines, to be honest. My family did their best to keep me in the know with the outside world and I love watching 'Good Morning America' to keep track but I was so sick that I couldn't be a part of the world for a bit. It was very challenging when four years later I emerged and had to find some kind of normalcy. 

How does it feel to be an inspiration to many in the world? What would you like them to take away from 'Locked In'? 

It’s truly an honor to be an 'inspiration' and to have found a purpose for the pain I endured. Knowing that my journey is impacting and changing lives is really quite incredible. I would like people to know that despite the tough climbs and hitting rock bottom you can make it to the top of the mountain and have a victory dance. The tougher the climb, the prettier the view.

Is there any part that you have decided to omit in the book? Is there any you would have liked to un-publish?

Honestly, I wrote my entire story. Obviously, I wish I didn't have to talk about the abuse aspect of my journey, but it is a huge part of my story and I have to speak up for those going through a similar situation. 

The book clearly shows that faith is a huge part of your story.

I wouldn't be where I am without my faith. It has always been my anchor.

Tell us about your experience on 'Dancing with the Stars'? How was it dancing with Val? 

I don’t really know if there are words to even begin to describe my experience on the show. It truly was a life changing experience filled with so many memorable moments and people. Val is an absolutely wonderful human being and a wonderful dancer. It was such an honor to learn from him and dance with him. 

Was the training different for DWTS? 

It was. Being an athlete and overcoming all that I’ve overcome, I definitely know what it means to train and go 'all in'. Dancing is challenging to begin with but being only back on your feet for a year (after 10 years of paralysis) and not having feeling in your legs is a whole different challenge. But Val really blew my mind in showing me what I was capable of. We trained every day for four to six hours plus worked out with trainers and therapists to ensure that my body was in tip-top shape. It was all consuming and that’s what you have to do to get the results you want. 

Out of all the routines on the show, if you could do over one once again, which one would it be and why? 

That’s a tough one. Honestly, I really loved all of them, but if I had to do one again, I’d probably do my first dance - the cha-cha. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. It brought so much joy to my family and to so many others, including myself and Val. Every dance was special but this one, I’m not sure if it was because it was my first dance, but it just shines in my mind. It was the moment I really was able to come full circle with this entire journey and dance to celebrate.