If not for her strong will to live and incredible good luck, Tatyana McFadden, 24, who is participating in her third Paralympics this summer in London, would not be the powerful professional athlete she is today. In fact, if any single circumstance in her life had been different, she might not even be alive.
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, with an underdeveloped spinal cord, a condition known as Spina Bifida, Tatyana’s life was put at risk when doctors waited 21 days to operate and correct the hole in her spine. Left disabled and unwanted, she was sent to an orphanage, where she spent her time using only her arms and hands to get around. She had no wheelchair. Six years later, however, her life took a major turn when Debbie McFadden, commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department, decided she wanted to adopt Tatyana and raise her in the U.S.
But the prospect of a better life was put on hold shortly after she came to America, when Tatyana became very ill and lost a significant amount of weight. Doctors predicted she would live only a few more months, but she pulled through and got involved in several different sports to build her strength until she found the one that changed her life forever: wheelchair racing.
As one of the youngest athletes to win a Paralympics medal on the cycling track, she made the trials for her first international Paralympics games in Athens, Greece in 2004 when she was only 14 years old. Four years later, she took home three silver medals and one bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympics. She also finished first in both the 2009 Chicago marathon and the 2010 New York marathon.
Not only has Tatyana opened up the door for herself as a top athlete, she’s also paved the way for other disabled athletes through her work as a national advocate for equal access for people with disabilities.
Now Tatyana is often referred to as “Beast” by her wheelchair racing teammates at the University of Illinois for her chiseled upper body strength and intimidating reputation as a fierce Paralympics competitor.
“I think that my past really has made me a strong, strong woman,” she said. “I’ve been through all the hardships.”
Click below for a video profile of Tatyana McFadden:
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