When Valentin Chmerkovskiy found out his Dancing with the Stars season 25 partner was Victoria Arlen, an ESPN personality who was paralyzed for almost four years, he had a lot of questions about how her recovery would factor into their rehearsals.
“She can’t feel her legs and feet,” Chmerkovskiy, 31, told PEOPLE after Monday’s premiere episode.
“Minor details,” joked Arlen, 22.
But Arlen — who was 11 when she was diagnosed with a neurological condition and an autoimmune disease, which affected her spinal cord and left her in a vegetative state for four years — has only been walking again for less than two years and has no feeling in her legs or feet. And Chmerkovskiy admits that “poses a major challenge in teaching the steps.”
“She doesn’t know if it’s right or left,” he said. “It takes patience from the both of us, because I have to adjust my teaching and how I explain things, and in turn I have to be patient that this is all very new to her, even the walking thing. People look at it as a challenge, but I look at it as an incredible opportunity to grow and inspire people and I’m grateful for it.”
PEOPLE’s special issue, 25 Seasons of Dancing with the Stars, is available now.
But on Monday’s show the pair left the audience in awe as they cha-cha-cha’d their way to a 19/30 score from the judges.
“We’ve been working so hard on this, and it was such a challenging dance,” Arlen said. “But I did it. I survived and made it. I climbed to the top of the mountain, and my feet did what I needed them to do. It was incredible.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (at 8 p.m. ET) on ABC.