She Is Not Disabled Enough


What do you think about that? Is that right?


Racked by sudden spasms in her shoulders, back and hands — the things she most relies upon to offset her paralyzed legs — the American swimmer Victoria Arlen failed to qualify for the final in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Paralympics last summer. But she persevered in the freestyle, going on to become one of the competition’s breakout stars. When Arlen returned home to New Hampshire with four medals and a world record, Exeter threw her a parade.

But Arlen’s glittering Paralympic career is now in jeopardy. This summer, she became enmeshed in a dispute with the International Paralympic Committee over an issue fundamental to her identity and to the complicated, often ambiguous science behind Paralympic competition: whether she is disabled enough even to qualify as a competitor.

Days before she was due to swim in the world championships in Montreal in August, she was ruled ineligible because, the committee declared, she had “failed to provide conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment.”

Arlen, 19, spent three years in a vegetative state because of an autoimmune disorder and woke in 2010 with paralyzed legs and other symptoms of the neurological condition transverse myelitis. She said she was being punished because of her doctor’s belief that there was a chance that her condition might improve.

“Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad,” Arlen said in an interview at home. In a follow-up e-mail, she said: “To have trained so hard this past year and come so far only to be humiliated and targeted by the I.P.C. for reasons unknown baffles me.”

For its part, the committee says it had no choice. “According to the rules, athletes have to provide evidence of permanent impairment to compete in the Paralympics, and we do not have satisfactory confirmation of that,” said Peter Van de Vliet, the committee’s medical and scientific director.

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Article written by Srah Lyal – Font