Victoria Arlen is an ESPN personality and former Paralympian swimmer and who, at age 11, 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. Arlen slowly regained the ability to speak, eat, walk, and move and now is competing on season 25 of Dancing with the Stars — and is blogging about her experience on the ABC reality show exclusively for PEOPLE. Follow Arlen, 22, and her partner Valentin Chmerkovskiy, 31, on Twitter!
Last Monday was incredible. It was Most Memorable Year night and we got to hear everyone’s incredible stories. That was far beyond anything I could have imagined and I was a hot mess by the time we got to our dance.
We started our dance with me in my old wheelchair and that was really emotional. It was really emotional to sit back in a wheelchair. As soon as I walked out into the ballroom and I saw my chair I absolutely lost it. But Val was there to keep me calm and focused and looking at the bigger picture, which was to show everyone in a wheelchair that you can move beautifully whether you’re sitting or standing.
I spent half my life in that chair. I had to rebuild my life in that chair. So I have a very bittersweet relationship with that chair. It got me where I wanted to go but it also is full of many painful memories.
I still don’t have feeling in my legs, so when I sat back down in that chair, for a few seconds it felt like nothing had changed. I felt like I was right back to being stuck there for years. But when I finally got out and started walking again in 2016, I finally felt I could break free and start living — and that’s what Val tapped into when creating our dance.
I’ve never felt so overcome with emotion and then to go into the dance and get three 9s, it couldn’t have been a more perfect night.
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But this week we get to put the intense stories behind us and have fun with Disney night!
Val and I are dancing as the original Mickey and Minnie, so we are super animated and whimsical on Steamboat Willie. We needed to breathe after last week and the magic of Disney is a great way to move on.
We’re doing a jazz routine and it is really hard. Val is really raising the bar, so it’s been very challenging but also a lot of fun. There are a lot of moving parts to the dance and that’s the fun thing about jazz, you can do a little bit of everything. We’ve really been able to put our personalities into this routine so I hope that shines!
Dancing with the Stars airs Monday (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.