Tatyana McFadden: "I’m a voice for those who don’t have one of their own"

The eight-time Paralympic gold medallist wheelchair racer is on a mission to notch 30 victories at World Marathon Majors and wants to compete at another two Paralympic Games.

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden is a wheelchair racing legend.

The six-time Paralympian has won eight Paralympic gold medals and topped 23 World Major Marathon podiums over the past decade.

On April 18 at the 2022 Boston Marathon, the American will aim for her sixth victory, inspired by the fact that her performances can aid her fight for the rights of people with disabilities.

“Each race, I feel like I’m doing something for the common good,” she said in recent interview with Baltimore Sun.

“I’m a voice for those who don’t have one of their own." - Tatyana McFadden to Baltimore Sun.

McFadden: "I hope to inspire anyone going through tough times"

McFadden was born with spina bifida and spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage with no access to basic services, meaning she learnt how to walk with her hands.

Years later she was adopted by her American mother Deborah and relocated to Maryland. It was there that McFadden first used a wheelchair.

“To me, it was freedom,” she explained.

It wasn't long before McFadden started championing disabled rights.

As a teenager, her family successfully sued her high school so that student-athletes with disabilities could have equal access to facilities as the abled ones.

Aged only 15, she competed at the Athens 2004 Paralympics.

As the youngest member of Team USA, she won a remarkable silver and bronze medal.

Since then, the distance prodigy has added 20 medals, including cross-country skiing silver at the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics.

“Sharing my story, I hope to inspire anyone going through tough times,” said the athlete who competed in six events at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and won three medals.

In Japan, she anchored Team USA to gold in the inaugural 4x100m universal relay, silver in the 800m, and bronze in 5000m.

Her packed schedule in 2021 meant minimal recovery time before attempting the Boston Marathon that year. She was among three elite wheelchair athletes who competed in five races in 42 days, and finished second at Boston less than 24 hours after she’d won the Chicago Marathon.

“I haven’t experienced pain like that in such a long time, and the fans helped out a lot,” the 33-year-old said in an interview after the race.

Thankfully this year, she is better prepared for the April 18 race.

McFadden aiming for 2028 Paralympics

McFadden boasts an astonishing record of 24 titles in the six World Marathon Majors since 2009.

She even scored a rare Grand Slam in 2013, winning Boston, Chicago, New York City, and London in the same year - a feat she has repeated four times since.

For now she is in her happy place.

“I can’t imagine living life any other way,” McFadden continued in the interview with the Baltimore Sun.

“If I wasn’t disabled, would I still be an athlete? I might still be in Russia. I’ve found such a great life in all that I’m doing. I don’t dream about [being able-bodied]. I’ve learned, over time, to embrace who I am.”

As for future plans, the 13-time world champion is targeting 30 career victories in the marathon majors and two more Paralympics appearances in 2024 and 2028.

"I want to hang on as long as possible,” she said. “If [American football’s] Tom Brady can do it, then so can I.”

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