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Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers

ESPN Host Was Locked In Her Own Body

     Imagine being mentally aware of what’s going on around you, but being unable to talk, move, or

even blink your eyes. That’s what happened to ESPN broadcaster Victoria Arlen when she was just

a young girl. She has now chronicled her story in a memoir called “Locked In,” and I spoke to her

about it on “Christopher Closeup.”

In 2006, Victoria began experiencing unexplained pain, weight loss, and tiredness. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the previously energetic fifth grader, so they kept saying, “It’s all in her head.” As time passed, she lost the ability to walk, control her arms, swallow food without choking – and her head felt like it was being “squeezed in a vise.” Again, doctors found no reason for her symptoms, so they moved her to a hospital wing that dealt with psychiatric patients.

     There, Victoria was physically and verbally abused by the medical staff who seemed to think that being rough would snap her out of her condition. Through it all, she prayed to God for healing, but her pain got so unbearable that she believed she was going to die. Suddenly, a Bible verse popped into her head: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Victoria said she felt calmness and the love of God surround her.

     She regained consciousness and got out of that hospital, but her medical problems remained and she ended up in a different hospital where she fell into a coma for over a year. In 2009, Victoria’s mind awakened, but she couldn’t move any part of her body. The only hope she received came from the visit of a Catholic priest from Africa named Father Bashobora, who prayed with her family and told them, “In time, she will be healed.” One day, Victoria received a new medication that unintentionally eased her pain. More importantly, she was able to blink, which allowed her to communicate with her family again and begin recovery.

     Though confined to a wheelchair, the sports-loving teen practiced swimming, which led to her winning a gold medal in the 2012 London Paralympics. In 2015, she earned a job as a broadcaster on ESPN. In 2016, she learned to walk again. And in 2017, she became a competitor on “Dancing with the Stars.” 

     Despite the cruelty Victoria endured in the past, she opens her book with Jesus’s quote from Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” She told me, “Being able to sit down with my pastor and dive into the words, that Scripture stuck with me...It’s very true that forgiveness is not for them, but for my own sake so that I can be free from the stronghold of that abuse.”

     Victoria needed to forgive another major blunder by her doctors as well. While visiting a specialist in 2013, he reviewed her medical history and quickly deduced that she had two conditions called “Transverse Myelitis” and “Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis.” He told her that “a simple round of steroids” could have prevented the inflammatory process that nearly killed her. The realization that all of her troubles could have been avoided knocked the wind out of Victoria, but she chose to focus on the future instead. She concluded, “Leaning on the ones I love the most - and knowing that God is bigger [than everything] - is a huge part of what keeps me going.”


For free copies of the Christopher News Note THE ENDURING VALUE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:  

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