6 Dancing with the Stars Contestants Who Overcome Physical Obstacles to Rule the Ballroom
Arlen's prowess on the dance floor is even more impressive when you remember that at one point not so long ago, doctors didn't think she'd ever walk again. She was diagnosed with transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, two autoimmune disorders that cause inflammation of the brain and the spinal cord, which led her to become full paralyzed for two years. Eventually, she began to regain control of her body and went on to win one gold and three silvers at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, for swimming. And after almost 10 years in a wheelchair, she learned to walk again.
Her latest endeavor? Trying her hand (or rather, feet!) at ballroom — even though she can't feel her legs. Of her decision to join the competition in season 25, she told PEOPLE: “I want the other Victorias out there, the people that are suffering or going through something, to keep fighting." On her season, she was quite the inspiration: Arlen made it to the top five and the semi-finals before she was sent home.
The army veteran lost an arm and a leg during Operation Iraqi Freedom, but that didn't stop him from dancing to third place in season 20 with partner Sharna Burgess — without ever using a prosthetic arm. "Because of Sharna and all the people who voted for me, that’s why I went the whole 10 weeks and came in third," he told Parade of his successful run on DWTS. "I had the support that was out there. I knew I wasn’t the best dancer, but I knew I needed to do the best I could. I think people saw that, and that kept me on the show."
Standing at 4-ft., 2-in. tall, nearly 18 in. separated Jolé, the first little person to compete on DWTS, from partner Sasha Farber. But that distance was nothing for the pair, who received several perfect scores for their dances, and wound up in fifth place on the show's 23rd season. "I can’t express how GREAT [getting 10s] made me feel about the progress I’ve been making in this competition," the Little Women: LA star wrote in her PEOPLE blog. "Who knew this “little” woman would make it this far?!"
Reality TV vet DiMarco — who won the 22nd season of America's Next Top Model — was the first-ever deaf contestant to take home the coveted Mirrorball trophy. With partner Peta Murgatroyd, he repeatedly posted high scores, no matter the dance, eventually winning the show's 22nd season. At one point, they even did a dance with a "silent" portion, which DiMarco said gave the audience a peek at how he feels on the dance floor. “A lot of people have labeled me as the deaf guy who can dance, but I think they don’t really understand how it works, the fact that I can’t hear anything at all, and we thought this would be great opportunity to bring silence into the middle of the song,” DiMarco told PEOPLE. “Because I don’t hear anything, and I’ve been dancing well. So it’s nice to give them an insight into my world.”
When she was 19 years old, Purdy contracted a type of bacterial meningitis that sent her into to septic shock. She had both legs amputated below the knee, and had to have both of her kidneys and her spleen removed. She went on to win a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Paralympics for snowboarding, and just a few months later, competed on season 18 of DWTS, becoming the first double amputee to do so. Along with partner Derek Hough, she never got any score lower than an 8, a show rarity. She came in second after fellow Olympian Meryl Davis.
U.S. army veteran Martinez suffered burns on more than 34 percent of his body after a roadside bomb hit his humvee during a deployment in the Middle East. Since then, he's gone through an incredible 33 skin graft and plastic surgeries. He went on to an acting career, starring on All My Children, as, fittingly, a soldier. He eventually nabbed a spot on the 13th season of Dancing with the Stars, and went on to win the Mirrorball with partner Karina Smirnoff.