(NEW YORK) — Victoria Arlen is just 23-years-old and has already checked some major goals off her bucket list, all while serving as an inspiration to so many.
When Arlen was 11, she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which took away her ability to speak, eat, and walk for years.
After a miraculous recovery, she won a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, was hired by ESPN as an on-air talent, and most recently made it to Week 9 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” alongside her dancing partner Val Chmerkovskiy.
Chmerkovskiy and Arlen performed the Charleston, and completed a contemporary routine dedicated to her parents based on Arlen’s recovery from her illness. They finished the latter performance with a score of 27, failing to advance past the semifinals.
Arlen and Chmerkovskiy recently spoke with ABC Radio about their performance on “Dancing with the Stars,” saying her time as an Olympic athlete contributed to her success on the show.
“My swim coach was very tough on me and I respond well to that training… being pushed to my limit,” Arlen says, discussing how Chmerkovskiy pushed her to perfect her dance routine.
Arlen dedicated a lot of time to learning her new craft—approximately four to five hours a day—saying she took the discipline that she had as an athlete and applied it to dancing.
She looks to perform at the highest possible level in whatever she tries, and “when [she doesn’t] meet that goal, it’s devastating.”
Chmerkovskiy realized what he was working with in Arlen: an athletic dancer with a commitment to excellence.
“Athletes don’t take the process personally, and that makes it awesome… They’re coachable,” says Chmerkovskiy, who had previously danced with another Olympian, Laurie Hernandez. He adds, “Their competitive nature was secondary to their humility and them as people.”
Chmerkovskiy also praised Arlen’s character, saying, “This is the next million dollar baby story. There’s an Oscar in her future.”
Arlen told ABC News that she is open to whatever opportunity life presents next, whether or not that includes dancing. Next year, she will check another box off her bucket list when she becomes an author, as she is set to release a new book.
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