Paralympics group urged to rethink ban of disabled athlete

Aug. 15, 2013 at 11:33 AM
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BONN, Germany, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Rules that paralympic athletes be permanently disabled should be reviewed, critics say, after a U.S. medalist was banned because her condition could improve.

The International Paralympic Committee has banned Victoria Arlen from further competition after medical experts said her paralysis could be temporary, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported Thursday.

Arlen "has an impairment at the moment," said Craig Spence, IPC's director of media and communications. "The question is whether it is deemed a permanent impairment."

The 18-year-old from Exeter, N.H., has been paralyzed from the waist down since 2006 after she contracted transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord.

She competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, setting a world record to win a gold medal in 100-meter freestyle swimming. She also medaled in three other events.

Arlen was disqualified before the competition, but allowed back into the Games after third-party arbitration.

The IPC has disqualified her again, ruling she wasn't able to provide "conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment."

Arlen's ban has drawn criticism from her coach and even two New Hampshire senators. John Ogden said Arlen has "a sliver of hope" to walk again because doctors tend to give their patients hope. Ogden, who coaches several disabled swimmers, said the ruling could make them unable to compete anywhere else.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, in a public letter to the IPC, said the organization should reconsider its rules "so that young athletes are never put through a similar situation."

Arlen said in a Facebook post she doesn't expect her disability to change in the near future.

"What message are we giving the world when we don't encourage hope for disabled individuals," she added.

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