About tatyana mcfadden

About Tatyana

At the University of Illinois Tatyana McFadden’s teammates on the school’s wheelchair racing team have nicknamed her Beast. Why? Because Tatyana is strong. In the gym people stop and gawk at how much she is lifting. In a road race spectators marvel at how she flies up hills that bring other racers to a crawl. On the track her competitors hang their heads as they see Tatyana’s rippling shoulders cross the finish line ahead of them. Tatyana is strong as a beast.

When Tatyana hears the nickname, however, she giggles. Being strong is not something Tatyana has ever had to think about, it is something that she has embodied her whole life.

By all accounts Tatyana should not be one of the top female athletes in the world. She probably should not be alive. She was born in 1988 in St. Petersburg, Russia, with an underdeveloped spinal cord resulting in paralyzation below the waist and a hole in her spine, a condition know as spina bifida. When operated on immediately, spina bifida is rarely life threatening. Tatyana was left for 21 days before doctors operated. Only her innate strength of will kept her alive.

As an unwanted disabled child, Tatyana was immediately sent to an orphanage after her surgery. She grew up in a place so poor they could not buy crayons for the children to color with let alone a wheelchair for Tatyana to get around in. Unfazed, she spent the first six years of her life using her arms as legs and walking on her hands as if the were feet.

In 1994, Debbie McFadden, working as the commissioner of disabilities for the U.S. Health Department, visited Tatyana’s orphanage on a business trip. When she met Tatyana, she immediately felt a connection with the young girl and decided to adopt her and bring her to the United States.

For Tatyana the adoption meant freedom, it meant a real family, and it meant her first wheelchair, but the excitement was short lived. When she arrived in the US she grew very sick. She was severely anemic and grossly under weight and doctors thought she would only survive a few more months. For a second time in her short life Tatyana’s innate strength would defy the odds.

To aid in her recovery Debbie began to enroll Tatyana in various youth sports groups. Tatyana began taking swimming lessons at the local pool and, a year after she arrived in the US, began participating with the Bennet Blazers, a Baltimore, Maryland area wheelchair sports organization.

No longer having to use her strength for survival, Tatyana quickly found she could use that strength to excel in athletics. She tried every sport she could find from archery, to ping-pong to basketball, but from the start she fell in love with wheelchair racing.

It did not take long for Tatyana’s racing career to take off. In 2004, at the age of 15, she was the youngest member of the USA track and field team at the Athens Paralympic Games, her first international competition. She shocked the world in the process, winning a silver medal in the 100 meters and a bronze in the 200m.

Two short years later, Tatyana etched her name in the record books, winning the gold medal in the 100m in world record time at the 2006 IPC World Championships in Assen, Netherlands. She followed that performance with two silver medal performances in the 200m and 400m, securing a spot as a “Beast” in international wheelchair racing heading in the 2008 Beijing Parlaympic Games.

Tatyana did not disappoint in Beijing, coming home with four medals, winning silver in the 200m, 400m and 800m and a bronze in the 4x100m relay.

Off the track Tatyana is pursuing a degree in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, and works as a national advocate for equal access for people with disabilities. Learn more about Tatyana’s off-the-field work in Causes.

Major Achievements

2009: First place, Chicago Marathon

2008: Silver medals, 200m, 400m, 800m; bronze medal, Women's 4 x100m relay - Paralympic Games, Beijing, China.

2007: Gold medals, 200m, 800m - U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, Atlanta, GA; Gold medals 400m, 800m - Visa Paralympic World Cup, Manchester, UK; Gold medal 200m (WR) - Boiling Point Wheelchair Track Classic, Windsor, Canada

2006: Gold medal, 100m (WR); Silver medals, 200m, 400m - IPC World Championships, Assen, The Netherlands

2005: Gold medal, 100m; Silver medals, 400m, 800m; Bronze medal, 200m - IPC Open European National Championships, Espoo, Finland

2004: Silver Medal, 100m; Bronze medal, 200m Paralympic Games, Athens, Greece