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From a Vegetative State to a Paralympic Champion

From a Vegetative State to a Paralympic Champion

The amazing story of Victoria Arlen’s will to survive and resolve to live.

Rachael Franklin from Authentic Media talks about the incredible story behind the new biography Locked In, published this March.

The word ‘inspiring’ is often over-used for biographies, but there really is no other word to describe the remarkable story told in the new biography Locked In. Paralympic champion and Dancing with the Stars contestant Victoria Arlen shares her courageous and miraculous story of recovery after falling into a mysterious vegetative state and how she broke free and overcame all the odds to eventually lead a full and inspiring life.

When Victoria was ten years old, she suddenly began experiencing health issues including asthma, pneumonia and fainting spells. Over the course of three short months, she lost her ability to speak, eat, walk, and move, and she slipped into a vegetative state. For two years her mind was dark, but in the third year her mind broke free, and she was able to think clearly and to hear and feel everything – but no one knew.

‘ I quickly realise I have no control of my body, not even my eyes…When I try to sit up, I feel disconnected from my body. I can’t move or make any sound. I am literally locked inside my own body.’

No one could hear her cry for help…. except God. Victoria explains that ‘It was my faith and trust in God that my journey would not end in defeat that often got me through. I’d make sure to have my day be filled with positive thoughts, big dreams and gratitude to help cancel out the pain and frustration.’

Her doctors wrote her off as a “lost cause,” convinced her survival was uncertain and recovery unlikely. So, Victoria remained a prisoner in her own body for nearly four years. She suffered horrific abuse at the hands of healthcare professionals yet could do nothing to stop it or report it, eventually leading her to want to die. But suddenly grasping the devastation this would cause her family, she realised that she had to make a choice to live. In that moment she made a promise to God:

‘If I get a second chance to live, I promise I will make it count. I will not waste even one moment. And I will do more than just live; I will change the world’.

‘Sometimes, it is in our darkest moments that we realise the most powerful things. And we are often tested the most severely right before the miracle.’

Then, at fifteen, against all odds and medical predictions, Victoria “woke up”. She let her mother know through the simplest of communication: eye blinks. ‘For most people, blinking isn’t a big deal or relevant, but for me, it is my passport back into the world of the living, and to let everyone know... I’m still here.’

‘A simple miracle has reignited the fire and fight that had been slowly disappearing.’ 

From there she began a nearly impossible fight back to life. Believing in the miracle of God’s healing, she gradually regained her ability to speak, to eat, and to move her upper body. But because of damage to her spine, she faced permanent paralysis from the waist down. 

Undaunted by her new limitations, she first began swimming for therapy and then competitively. And in 2012, just two years after coming back to life, she found herself on the American swimming team for the London Paralympics. She was the much-hyped contender to be the darling of Paralympic swimming, and she went on to win several medals including a gold. 

‘I take a moment, hold my medal, and close my eyes. Thank you, God. This one’s for you. You’re the true gold medallist.’

The rest of Victoria’s journey has been  a story of surpassing the odds: winning multiple medals, getting a job at ESPN, and finally – after nearly ten years of paralysis – beginning to walk again and even competing on Dancing with the Stars, even though she still did not have all the feeling in her legs. Her professional dance partner Valentin Chmerkovskiy, says that ‘She’s a human hero …There’s no greater example of the human spirit … no better demonstration of strength in family and faith.’

In Locked In, Victoria shares her story – the pain, the struggle, the fight to live and thrive, and most importantly, the faith that carried her through. Her journey was not easy, but by believing in God’s healing power and forgiveness, she is living proof that, despite seemingly insurmountable odds and challenges, the will to survive and resolve to live can be a force stronger than our worst circumstances. 


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Products mentioned in or related to this blog post
Locked In (Paperback)
Arlen, Victoria
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