A racer’s greatest elemental fear is perhaps a head-wind – anything that will slow one’s performance is generally frowned upon. However, the knowledge of a 17 mph head-wind going into Sunday’s New York City Marathon brightened Tatyana McFadden’s spirits: “I’m just not a very good coaster compared to the other girls, so the head wind was a little bit of an advantage for me because it slowed us down.”
Despite being slowed by the elements, McFadden was able to finish the New York City Marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 13 seconds – 3 minutes and 41 seconds faster than second place finisher, Wakako Tsuchida of Japan. McFadden’s victory at the NYC Marathon completed her “Grand Slam”-esque sweep of the 4 major marathons (Boston, London, Chicago, and New York), making her the only person in history to have won all 4 events in one year.
McFadden grew up in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia. She was born with spina bifida, a defect which results in incomplete development of the spinal chord. As a result, McFadden has been paralyzed below the waist since birth. At age 6, McFadden was adopted by Deborah McFadden, the director of the International Children’s Alliance. Due to the impoverished nature of the orphanage she grew up in, McFadden did not have access to a wheelchair or proper healthcare. Thus, when Deborah McFadden took her to John Hopkins Hospital after her adoption, doctors informed her that Tatyana most likely did not have long to live.
In order to improve the health of her daughter, Deborah McFadden encouraged Tatyana to participate in sports. The foray started with swimming, developed into basketball, and ultimately culminated in racing. Currently, McFadden is a student at the University of Chicago – a school she chose due to their Adapted Varsity Athletics Program and continued success in wheelchair sports. McFadden focused on sprinting at the beginning of her career and slowly transitioned to marathon races in 2009.
At the Paralympic World Championships earlier this year, McFadden won a total of 6 events, taking gold in events ranging from 100 meters to 5,000 meters. In last year’s Paralympics in London, McFadden won 3 gold medals. Success is no stranger to the “Grand Slam” winner, but luck had not been on her side during 2 of the NYC Marathons.
In 2009 and 2011, McFadden’s efforts were thwarted by flat tires created by the rough road. This year, however, a flat tire wouldn’t have mattered. By mile 16, McFadden was racing by herself: “And I was nervous and worried because I didn’t know who was going to be coming, who was going to be creeping up. But I just had to believe in myself and my training.”
Training will weigh heavily on McFadden’s mind as she trains for Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia this upcoming February. McFadden will attempt to qualify for the US Cross-Country Skiing team. If she makes the team, McFadden will be headed back to her birth-nation, a trip destined to be filled with emotions considering McFadden’s recent failure to help overturn a 2012 Russian law which bans American parents from adopting Russian children: “It will take a lot of work to make the team, but going back to Russia and be able to show an example of a living success story would be great. I love sports and competition and want to continue my passion and inspire others as long as possible.”
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