Women’s History Wednesday Archive: Tatyana McFadden

This weekend, Tatyana McFadden will race in the New York City Marathon.  A first place win completes her fourth Grand Slam (a sweep of the London, Boston, Chicago and New York marathons) in as many years.  Prior to the Rio Games, I  wrote this piece on the Paralympian.  Enjoy!

In addition to her Olympic resume, McFadden is also a 14-time World Champion and a 12-time marathon winner, including three straight grand slams (a sweep of the London, Boston, Chicago and New York marathons).  She has already won London and Boston for this cycle and will look to complete her fourth grand slam after competing in Rio. At the Rio Games, McFadden is the favorite to win her events in Rio, all seven of them. If Tatyana is successful, she would be the first person to sweep races at every distance.

McFadden was born in Russia with a condition known as spina bifida, a birth defect that leaves an incomplete closing or hole in the back bone and membranes surrounding the spinal cord.  The condition left McFadden paralyzed from the waist down and without a primary caretaker.  Tatyana spent her first years in an orphanage in Russia.  At the age of six, Tatyana was adopted by Deborah McFadden and found a home in the United States.

Tatyana continued to battle with her health upon moving to America. Deborah got her daughter involved in sports as a way to keep her strong and active.  Little did she know she was empowering Tatyana to have the experiences and confidence needed to become a decorated athlete.  From basketball to ice hockey, McFadden competed in as many sports as possible.  Ultimately, it was a need for speed that led to racing.

At 15, McFadden made her first Paralympic Team.  At the 2004 Athens Games, McFadden won her first two medals.  However, McFadden was not always accepted on the track with her peers.  In 2005, Deborah McFadden filed a lawsuit after Tatyana was not permitted to compete in track & field at her high school in Maryland.  The McFadden’s won and by Tatyana’s next Olympics, the state passed the Maryland Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act (FAESDA). Three years later in Beijing, McFadden won four medals.

By her third Olympics in 2012, Tatyana was not the only McFadden to compete.  Her sister, Hannah McFadden also earned a spot on Team USA. The McFadden sisters were the first sibling pair to compete in the Paralympics for the United States.  In 2014, Tatyana represented Team USA in the Sochi Winter Olympics.  McFadden won her 11th Olympic medal in Nordic Skiing.  In that same year, McFadden completed her degree in Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Illinois, where she competed in wheelchair racing and wheelchair basketball.

From the very beginning, Tatyana has faced any challenges in life head-on. Today, Tatyana continues to challenge herself as a racer and society as an advocate and role model for several causes. In 2015, Tatyana was awarded the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award by the Women’s Sports Foundation.  This spring, Tatyana won her first ESPY award for Female of the Year with a Disability.  Although, if you ask Tatyana, she wouldn’t consider herself disabled.  She is just another athlete training her body to do extraordinary things.

“Anything that a person with disabilities wants to do, they have the right to do,” said Tayana for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “That can change the world.”

Next month, catch Hannah, Tatyana and the rest of Team USA at the Rio Paralympic Games. The sisters are also featured on the latest episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

More about Tatyana McFadden


Tatyana McFadden: Team USA

Sports Illustrated: Meet Team USA

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