SCI Superstar: Tatyana McFadden


They say our early years have a strong effect on who we become, and this is certainly the case for US Paralympian Tatyana McFadden. Until the age of 6, Tatyana was living in a Russian orphanage walking on her hands because there were no wheelchairs available and was known by the orphanage’s staff for her stubborn “I can do it on my own” personality.

A grim future no doubt, but her entire life changed in 1995 when her future adoptive mother Deborah McFadden, who was working for the United States government and was in Russia to disburse aid, met Tatyana while visiting her orphanage. She fell in love with her spirit, and even though she wasn’t thinking about adopting, she adopted Tatyana in hopes of giving her a true future.

Deborah was temporarily paralyzed for a year with Guillaine Barre Syndrome, so she personally understands the life of someone with a mobility disability, hence her desire to help Tatyana. To find out how Tatyana went on to become one of the most decorated wheelchair racers in the world after settling the United States, check out our post below.

Why she’s fearless

After arriving in the US, Deborah took Tatyana to the doctors right away. Tatyana was born with spinal bifida, but since she was severely malnourished before her adoption, 6 long years of malnourishment, doctors weren’t hopeful she would fully recover. To help her become stronger, Deborah enrolled Tatyana in adapted sports in their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland with Blaze Sports.

Falling in love with wheelchair racing right away, her being sick quickly became a long forgotten memory. At the age of 8, she began competing in wheelchair racing amongst her peers and by the time she was in 8th grade she knew what she wanted the most – to become a Paralympian. And she was able to make her dream a reality when she was just 14 years old.

In 2004 at the summer Athens Paralympic Games, Tatyana made her Paralympic debut the same time she started high school. During her first appearance at the Paralympic games, Tatyana brought home one medal – a bronze in the 200m – and that just whetted her appetite for more.

Four years later in 2008, Tatyana returned to the Paralympic games when they were in Beijing, and she won four more shiny Paralympic medals – a bronze in the 4x100m, silver in the 200m, silver in the 400m and silver in the 800m.  Short distances at high speed were her specialty.

However in 2009, she decided to try a marathon on for size and unexpectedly won the Chicago marathon that year. The following two years, she also went on to win the New York marathon, a Chicago marathon and the London marathon.  Becoming a quick learner at any athletic pursuit she touched soon became her M.O.

And at the 2012 London Paralympics, competing alongside her sister Hannah McFadden who’s also adopted, Tatayana finally won the coveted gold medal; three of them in fact – the 400m, 800m and 1500m.  After the London Paralympics, Tatyana began to focus strictly on long distance and marathons, trying to build up her endurance as much as possible.

And in 2013, all her hard work showed. At the IPC Championships she won an astounding six gold medals in all her favorite events, including a new event too – the 5,000m.  And she also won the “triple crown” of the marathon world – winning both the Boston, New York and London marathon all in 2013. Watch her talk about this monumental achievement

What’s next?

With the Sochi Winter Paralympics gearing up to start next month, Tatyana is getting ready for these games as well. Last year she made the epic decision to try out Nordic skiing – the adapted form of cross-country skiing. There have been naysayers who don’t think she’ll be ready in time, but with her awesome endurance skills, you just never know. Watch a 1st person perspective of Tatyana skiing

Tatyana ended up making the US team at the end of January, and she can’t wait to return to Russia as an athlete. She also reunited with her birth mother in the past few years (they’re just friends; Tatyana says she holds no ill will towards er, saying it was for the best she was adopted), which makes the prospect of performing good as a Nordic skier in Sochi that much bigger.

Good luck Tatyana! Can’t wait to see how you do on the snow vs. pavement next month, and hopefully the snow won’t be as slushy as it is for the AB-skiiers. And if you don’t for whatever reason bring home a medal, we’ll still love you. You are one of the fiercest women on the planet.

– Visit Tatyana’s official site:

Have you met Tatyana?

Check out these videos of Tatyana

PBS interview with Tatyana and her sister at the London 2012 Paralympics: Two Sisters, One Race

Meet Tatyana McFadden from Team USA. Her story and prepping for Sochi

Skiing with Tatyana McFadden from the Chicago Tribune; view her perspective on the course

Tatyana McFadden: 1st to win Boston, London and Chicago Marathons in one year from the Paralympic Games

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