Being on Dancing with the Stars is an achievement Victoria Arlen never thought she’d experience.
At the age of 11, the ESPN personality and former Paralympian 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.
“With everything that I’ve gone through, just living seemed unobtainable for a long time,” Arlen, 22, told reporters after Monday’s episode of DWTS. “So to be here is just such a gift.”
Arlen calls being on the ABC reality dance competition “a dream” but says she and pro partner Val Chmerkovskiy have a goal much bigger than their own success in the ballroom.
“We want to go out and spread joy and spread light and spread love and help the other Victorias out there that might be going through something,” she said. “Just to hear that people are finding that joy is really an honor.”
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Arlen — who is blogging about her DWTS experience exclusively for PEOPLE — wowed the judges for a second performance in a row on Monday and hopes to do it all over again on Tuesday’s special Latin Night episode.
“I’ve watched this show throughout various hard situations in my life: from a hospital bed in the ICU, to sitting in a wheelchair at home. So to actually be standing in the center of that ballroom last week got me very emotional,” Arlen revealed in her blog Monday. “It shot to the top of my ‘I’m glad I lived’ moments.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (at 8 p.m. ET) on ABC. A special Latin Night episode airs Tuesday (at 9 p.m. ET) on ABC.