Dancing with the Stars was high with emotion and tears for season 25’s Most Memorable Year Night.
On Monday’s episode (during which the first 10 of the season was awarded), each of the contestants opened up about their pasts and reflected on the most memorable years from each of their lives.
For Victoria Arlen, she admitted that she didn’t “necessarily have a year.”
“When I was 11, I developed two … rare neurological conditions,” the 22-year-old shared on the reality dancing competition series. “They targeted my brain and my spinal chord. Basically, my body started attacking itself.”
It took three years for doctors to diagnose Arlen with two equally rare conditions: Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, autoimmune disorders that caused swelling in her brain and spinal cord. Arlen lost the ability to speak, eat, walk and move. Doctors believed she had little chance of survival, let alone recovery — but her parents believed in her, setting up a hospital room in their house in New Hampshire to take care of her.
“I went from being a normal, happy kid to a complete vegetable. I was having seizures every two to five minutes,” she explained.
“This doctor basically said, ‘She’s not going to make it. You need to accept the fact that your child’s going to die.’ I just wanted to scream. At that moment, I decided that I’d be damned if this is how my story ends,” she explained.
In 2010, things improved when she started to get her hands and talking back and regained the ability sit up and hold her head up. “The only thing that didn’t come back was my legs,” said Arlen, who previously utilized a wheelchair.
“I was told by every expert that I would never walk again, but I was also told I would never talk again and move again and let alone live, so I refused to give up,” said Arlen, who chronicled her story during her foxtrot, which began with her dancing around the ballroom floor in her wheelchair.
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After completing the heartfelt number, Arlen and Val Chmerkovskiy were awarded a 27/30 and earned rave reviews by the judges.
“You are so inspirational,” said head judge Len Goodman, “That was just a joyful, lovely experience and you should inspire the whole of America.”
“I feel honored to be witnessing you first dance in a wheelchair, which was beautiful as well — let’s not discount that,” said Carrie Ann Inaba. “The chemistry between you two is so tender and beautiful. Well done.”
Moments after Arlen celebrated her high scores, co-hosts Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews announced that male contestants Derek Fisher and Nick Lachey were in jeopardy for elimination.
“On this fourth week of competition, the couple leaving is … Derek and Sharna [Burgess],” announced Bergeron.
Fisher — he performed a tear-jerking number on Monday evening in honor of his 11-year-old daughter, who survived cancer — reflected on his journey on the ABC series after his elimination was announced.
“Growth as a man, growth as a person,” Fisher said of what he gained from the experience. “I am so happy and so proud to have been a part of this no matter how long it lasted and I’m forever changed from it and I look forward to a bright future.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.