Victoria Arlen is an ESPN sportscaster, a “Dancing With the Stars” alum, “American Ninja Warrior Junior” host, and a gold medal-winning Paralympian. But once upon a time, she endured a terrifying health crisis. She recently spoke with Heavy about her journey and how it can be “overwhelming” to be called an inspiration, but ultimately, she just wants to help people. She also talked about what is so inspiring about hosting “American Ninja Warrior Junior” and what fans can look forward to in the third season.
Arlen Says If She Can Help Even One Person, It Was All Worth It
As a pre-teen, Arlen developed “two incredibly rare neurological conditions that shut [her] body down” — acute disseminated encephalomyelitis and transverse myelitis. She quickly slipped into a vegetative state, having lost her ability to speak and move. Arlen then sent four years “locked in” her own body, which she says was scary.
“I could see and hear things, but nobody knew I could. I remember most of it, but there are some spotty moments. There were definitely times where I was scared, especially when my body first started to shut down. It is a pretty crazy story, even now talking about it years later,” said Arlen.
But suddenly, four years later, Arlen “began coming back to life,” she wrote in an ESPN profile. She told us that while her recovery was daunting, she let her faith “outweigh the fear of the unknown” and she went on to become a paralympic champion swimmer. Her 2021 London Summer Paralympic performance was so phenomenal that it led to Arlen becoming a motivational speaker, which she admitted can sometimes carry with it a lot of pressure.
“Becoming an ‘inspiration’ was definitely not something I had ever planned on being. I quickly learned it came with a lot of pressure and responsibility,” said Arlen. “At first it was overwhelming coming back into a world I didn’t recognize and being given this new title of being an inspiration. I didn’t want to ever let anyone down, so I put a lot of pressure on myself, which honestly affected my mental health at times. I had to figure out how to best navigate while still prioritizing my own health.”
Arlen also said that being a beacon of hope for people has “helped [her] to find a purpose for [her] pains.”
“If I can help even one person, then this will all have been worth it,” she said.
Arlen’s Latest Endeavor Is Hosting ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’
Arlen took over hosting “American Ninja Warrior Junior” for its second season, which aired in 2020. Now the show is back for season three, which just began airing on Peacock on Sept. 9. She told us that as a sportscaster and host for ESPN, she is “always looking to expand [her] role on various platforms” and she’s always been a fan of “American Ninja Warrior,” so it felt like the perfect fit.
“I always appreciate the opportunity to hone my skill as a host and share other people’s incredible stories. I hold so many memories from filming this season. Trust me, you are not going to want to miss a single episode! I still pinch myself that I get to be a part of this wonderful show,” said Arlen.
When asked about her favorite part of the show, Arlen said it is “an incredible place to work” and praised the kids who compete.
“I always leave feeling inspired by these kids. Not only will their skills blow you away, but their voices and the messages they share will surprise you in the best way,” said Arlen, adding, “What is amazing about these kids though is they have grown up watching the adult ninjas and wanting to be just like them. They have such a drive and determination. I truly believe we can all learn something from these junior ninjas.”
Arlen told us she firmly believes that we will see many of the junior ninjas on the adult version of the show in the future and she hopes everyone tunes in to for the “incredible” stories this season.
“[Season three] is sure to leave you speechless and on the edge of your seat,” said Arlen.
“American Ninja Warrior Junior” drops new episodes every Thursday on Peacock TV. “Dancing With the Stars” season 30 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times on ABC.
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