Generally, a slight chance that a paralyzed person could once again walk is a good thing. It’s inspirational. But in the case of Paralympic swimmer Victoria Arlen, it’s become a major setback.
The International Paralympic Committee has banned the New Hampshire 18-year-old from competition in any future events, including next week’s Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Montreal. The committee says her disability—she lost the use of her legs in 2006 as a result of a spinal-cord inflammation called transverse myelitis—may not be permanent.
She competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London only after arbitration persuaded the committee to allow it. There, Arlen won gold and broke two world records.
At issue is what Arlen’s coach John Ogden calls “a sliver of hope” from the swimmer’s doctors that she could walk again.
New Hampshire’s two U.S. senators, Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, issued a joint letter to the committee asking for the Paralympics to re-evaluate its criteria.
“The way in which the International Paralympic Committee conducted itself regarding the classification process of Victoria is reprehensible,” the letter states. “Not only does this decision have a direct impact on Victoria but it also affects the sport of swimming, as well as the sponsors and coaches involved in the competition.”
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New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan wrote a similar letter to the committee on Arlen’s behalf.
, Arlen wrote that she was “humiliated and targeted by the IPC for reasons unknown,” spurring dozens of supportive comments.
IPC President Sir Phillip Craven told the CBC
that Arlen could compete again, but only if her doctors offer conclusive proof that her disability is permanent.
“"The athlete was informed in London that far more in-depth medical evidence would have to be submitted prior to the swimming championships in Montreal,” he said.
Commenters on the CBC’s site said the committee’s approach is troubling. Here’s what one said:
“Christopher Reeve was sure that he would walk again one day, too. It's called hope and optimism and gives one purpose.”