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Three years after being in vegetative state, teen sets two world records in paralympic swimming

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Victoria Arlen's life isn't like that of most teens. Sure, she goes to school, spends most of her time outside the classroom doing homework and doing what she loves, swimming and playing hockey. Yet Arlen has to go through much more to achieve those relatively modest aims, because she is paralyzed, as she has been since she was 11 years old.

Now, just 18 months after returning to the pool following three years spent in a "vegetative state," Arlen has performed a virtual miracle: She set two paralympic swimming world records, not to mention 11 American records. It's not a stretch to say that she could become the next best thing to Michael Phelps, with more arm power and a lot more inspiration behind her.

As reported by Manchester TV network WMUR, the New Hampshire Union-Leader the SwimSwam blog and a handful of other sources, Arlen, an Exeter (N.H.) High senior, set world marks in the women's 400-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle, besting British paralympic swimming phenom Eleanor Simmonds' top marks in both events.

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Exeter senior and paralympic world record holder Victoria Arlen — New England Swimming

Exeter senior and paralympic world record holder Victoria Arlen — New England Swimming

While Arlen is receiving ample attention for her swimming exploits now, she isn't new to the pool. The teen was a swimming fanatic as a youngster before undiagnosed spinal inflammation left her completely paralyzed from the waist down and in a vegetative state for a full three years. Beginning in 2006, Arlen was in a hospital and uncommunicative, with doctors unsure about her prospects for survival. Three years later, her spinal inflammation was finally discovered and treated, with the then 14-year-old responding and regaining her bubbly personality, though not the use of her legs.

Incredibly, paralysis didn't deter her from getting right back into the sports she loves. Finally, in 2010, Arlen returned to the pool. Less than two years later, she is squarely among the best paralyzed swimmers on the planet, with a date in London at the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Paralympics on Aug. 29.

That's a far cry from four years ago, when the questions facing the teen and her family were whether she could survive, not what she would pack for a national training camp in Germany and international competition in England.

"I managed to prove them all wrong because I was determined to live," Arlen told WMUR about her terrifying health issues.

"[After recovering, Arlen's mother] stopped the car and said, 'Don't you ever let anyone tell you you can't do something. If you think you can do it, you can do it.'"

It seems safe to say that Arlen is doing extraordinary things now, and she doesn't even need her legs to do them.

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