Survivor of rare disorders who was in a wheelchair for 10 years is star of new Jockey ad campaign

NEW YORK — Victoria Arlen was an average 11-year-old when tragedy struck and, seemingly out of nowhere, her body quickly began shutting down.

"I lost the ability to eat, speak, function, move and I slipped into a vegetative state," Arlen said.

Arlen, now 23, had been struck with two rare autoimmune disorders that caused swelling in her brain and spinal cord.

"They told my parents I probably wouldn’t make it and if I did make it, I’d be a vegetable," Arlen said.

But what the doctors didn’t know was that Arlen was still inside in her body, with no way to communicate.

"I just wanted to live. I had this kind of unbreakable will to survive, to go out and see the world. There was so much I hadn’t done. I started blinking and made eye contact with my mom. I just started blinking and that was my doorway back into the world," Arlen said.

That was a world where she had to re-learn everything: how to speak, how to eat and how to move.

Doctors told her she would never regain was her ability to walk.

She had lost almost five years of her life but hunkered down and in just three years managed to graduate high school, alongside her triplet brothers.

Then in 2012, she made the U.S. Paralympic swim team and competed in the London games. She brought home three silvers and a gold.

Despite all her successes, Arlen said her parents had promised her they’d help her get back everything she’d lost -- and there was still one thing.

"We discovered project walk, which is a paralysis recovery program out on the west coast. My parents being the epic humans they are they brought it to the east coast and Project Walk Boston opened its doors, not only for me but for so many others," Arlen said.

It took her years, but after a decade in a wheelchair, Arlen could walk again.

She joined ESPN as one of its youngest on-air talents and made it to the semi-finals on Season 25 of “Dancing With The Stars.”

Now she’s the new face of Jockey, one of the heroes the underwear company is honoring with its "Show 'Em" campaign.

"It was really kind of, in my mind, a way of showing people who I am and being proud of it and being proud of my scars and showing it," Arlen said. "I think we all go through moments when we feel like giving up or we feel like the mountain is too high and we can’t climb it. But my advice is keep climbing because the view is totally worth it."