Arlen, 18, won a gold medal and three silvers in the 2012 London Paralympics.
She was ruled ineligible for the swimming championships next week because a doctor ruled her disability isn't severe enough, WMUR-TV reported.
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, and Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, sent a letter to the International Paralympic Committee asking it to reverse the decision.
“Athletes train for months and years to participate in the Paralympics, so for an athlete to be told shortly before the start of their competition that they are ineligible is wrong and unfair,” wrote Shaheen and Ayotte. “This is a young woman who has competed at previous international Paralympic competitions, so we find it hard to understand the recent International Paralympic Committee decision classifying her as ineligible.”
Below is the letter from Shaheen and Ayotte:
Sir Philip Craven, President,
Mr. Xavier Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer
Dear President Craven & Mr. Gonzalez:
We write to express our extreme disappointment with the decision made by the independent panel regarding Victoria Arlen’s eligibility to participate in the upcoming International Paralympic Committee World Swimming Championships in Montreal, Canada. Victoria is a very talented young woman who deserved the opportunity to compete at this international competition and we strongly object to your recent ruling.
The way in which the International Paralympic Committee conducted itself regarding the classification process of Victoria is reprehensible. Not only does this decision have a direct impact on Victoria but it also affects the sport of swimming, as well as the sponsors and coaches involved in the competition. In addition, we believe the para-swimming classification process used to determine the athlete’s eligibility should be reevaluated. Athletes train for months and years to participate in the Paralympics, so for an athlete to be told shortly before the start of their competition that they are ineligible is wrong and unfair.
More than seven years ago, Victoria was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of a section of the spinal cord and resulted in a paralysis from the waist down. For more than two years, Victoria lived in a coma and began swimming competitively again at the age of 16. Victoria’s determination in the face of adversity, hard work and dedication demonstrate her strength of spirit and quality of character. Citizens of the State of New Hampshire are incredibly proud of Victoria’s achievements; she is a role model and an inspiration.
At last year’s Paralympic Games in London, Victoria competed in the 100-meter, 50-meter, 400-meter and 4x100-meter relay freestyle events, as well as the 100-meter breaststroke event. Victoria set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, while earning silver medals in three of her other races. This is a young woman who has competed at previous international Paralympic competitions, so we find it hard to understand the recent International Paralympic Committee decision classifying her as ineligible.
As you know, the Paralympic Games was formed to enable para-athletes the opportunity to achieve sporting excellence, as well as inspire and excite the world. The para-athletes’ performances and incredible stories told at these international competitions help teach the values of acceptance and appreciation for people living with disabilities. Victoria’s accomplishments, in and out of the water, are a testament to her ability in building a bridge between sports and social awareness and those living with a disability.
We believe the International Paralympic Committee should investigate this matter further, as well as reevaluate the para-swimming classification process so that young athletes are never put through a similar situation.