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Paralympian barred after disability ruled non-permanent

08/13/2013 11:36 EDT | Updated 10/13/2013 05:12 EDT
A teenage paralympian world record holder paralyzed from the waist down hoping to compete in this week's championships has been barred from the event because her disability is not considered permanent by the organizers.

The International Paralympic Committee banned Victoria Arlen, 18, from competing in the Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Montreal this week, stating that her medical records "failed to provide conclusive evidence of a permanent eligible impairment."

Seven years ago, Arlen was paralyzed from the waist down after an illness.

Five years later, she resumed competitive swimming.

"I am disabled, and that won’t change in the near future," wrote Arlen in a statement after she was told the committee's decision. "I feel numb and completely shocked with the turn of events."

Victoria Arlen has spent the past seven years in a wheelchair, her father, Larry told CBC News.

"My daughter would rather walk in six-inch high heels than be a para-swimmer," he said, explaining that the family doesn't hide anything about his daughter's medical condition from the IPC.

One doctor's assessment in her more than 100-page medical history says if Victoria received years of therapy and physical treatment, she may one day walk again, he said.

That opinion led the IPC to rule that the hopeful swimmer is ineligible.

The controversy started at last year's paralympics in London, England, he said, when the IPC declassified Victoria for the first time. Following an unsuccessful appeal, third-party arbitration resulted in his daughter being reinstated for the competition.

During those paralympics, Victoria set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle and silver medals in three other races.

However, the IPC demanded to see Victoria's entire medical history so an expert panel could properly classify the paralympic swimmer before this year's competition.

Five experts reviewed her case unaware of which athlete they were assessing, Craig Spence, the IPC's director of media and communications, told CBC News.

Each one recommended Victoria be made ineligible, he said, and the IPC followed their recommendation in their decision.

Spence acknowledged the timing was unfortunate — with a decision released while Victoria and her family were already in Montreal preparing for the competition.

However, the family did not hand over her medical records until July 24, he said, making it hard to render a decision sooner.

Victoria's father denies Spence's account, saying the IPC had access to Victoria's medical records before the London 2012 competition.

While various disability organizations have contacted the Arlen family to help them fight the ruling, Larry said he doesn't know if Victoria will be able to compete, which has left the young athlete devastated and confused.

"Being penalized for maybe having a glimmer of hope of one day being able to walk again is beyond sad," wrote Victoria. "What message are we giving the world when we don't encourage hope for disabled individuals?"

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