Victoria Arlen is the picture of confidence. Truly: Right now, the 23-year-old ESPN personality is gracing giant billboards in Times Square, striking yoga poses in sporty Jockey’s underwear.
It’s difficult to believe that, just seven years ago, she was paralyzed from the waist down and in a vegetative state.
In 2006, when Arlen was 11, she developed two rare inflammatory disorders. Called transverse myelitis and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, the diseases compromised the sports-obsessed middle schooler’s immune system, and caused swelling in her brain and spinal cord.
Doctors told Arlen’s parents she would never talk, walk or function independently.
“I was written off as a lost cause,” the face of Jockey’s latest advertising campaign tells The Post. “But I’m living proof that miracles can happen.”
Gradually, she lost the ability to move much of her body, speak and feed herself. She suffered from seizures every five to seven minutes — scary experiences she describes as “being struck by lightning over and over again.” The attacks caused her eyes to roll back in their sockets.
For over a year, her mind was shrouded in complete “darkness.” Today, she can’t remember anything from that time.
But worse were the years when she was entirely conscious — but couldn’t communicate.
“I was locked in my own body and able to hear and understand everything which was said to me or around me,” Arlen says. “But nobody knew.”
In December 2009, insomnia was added to her long list of symptoms. She was given a sedative to help her sleep. It didn’t make her tired — but it did stop the seizures.
Suddenly, Arlen could focus her eyes. Her mom, Jacqueline, asked her to blink if she could hear her. She blinked like crazy.
“That was the best day of my life,” says Arlen. “I finally made a connection. I was like, ‘Mummy, Daddy. I’m here!’ ”
What followed is nothing short of wondrous. After nine months of intensive speech, occupational and physical therapy, the determined girl was almost back to her old self — except that she still couldn’t walk.
Wheelchair-bound, Arlen threw herself into her former hobby of swimming. She did so well, she qualified for the 2012 Paralympics in London, where she went on to win one gold and three silver medals.
The only challenge left was to use her legs again and walk — a goal she achieved in 2016, with intensive physical therapy. “I had to finish what I started,” she says. She took her first steps one year after being hired as on-air talent for ESPN.
Next up was her appearance on TV’s “Dancing With The Stars” in 2017 where she became a semifinalist with dance partner Val Chmerkovskiy. “That was an incredible experience,” says Arlen, who is also a motivational speaker and splits her time between West Hartford, Conn., and West Hollywood, Calif.
Even she is amazed by how much progress she’s made. “I just saw my billboards in Times Square and was blown away,” she says. “Two and a half years ago, I was being wheeled through there by my parents.
“I still can’t quite believe how far I’ve come.”
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